Iranian lawmaker rejects deal to ship uranium abroad

Tehran expected to render decision on plan by today

By Nasser Karimi
Associated Press / October 23, 2009

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TEHRAN - Iran’s deputy parliament speaker yesterday dismissed an internationally backed plan to have Tehran ship its uranium abroad for enrichment, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The remarks by Mohammad Reza Bahonar were the first reaction in Tehran on the draft proposal, presented Wednesday after three days of talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna.

The plan is viewed by the international community as a way to curb Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Tehran is expected to decide by today whether to approve the plan, which calls for shipping Iran’s uranium to Russia for enrichment to a level that renders it suitable as nuclear fuel for energy production, not for weapons.

“The United States demanded Iran ship uranium abroad, in return for getting fuel back,’’ Bahonar said, according to IRNA. “But Iran does not accept this.’’

Parliament will not vote on the draft plan, and Bahonar does not speak for the government, which is to decide the matter. But it is unclear whether his comments reflect high-level resistance to the deal or the opinions of some influential politicians in Iran.

There has been no response so far to the offer from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on state matters, or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The proposal may meet resistance by some Iranian leaders because it weakens Iran’s control over its stockpiles of nuclear fuel and could be perceived as a concession to the United States, which took part in the Vienna talks with France and Russia.

Under the Vienna-brokered draft, Iran is required to send 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of this year, Bernard Valero, French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday.

After further enrichment in Russia, the uranium is to be converted into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran. Valero said France would be the one making that conversion.

“France is an active party to this accord,’’ Valero said, stressing that Paris is still a player in the proposal.

Valero, in an online briefing, also said the proposal drafted in Vienna allows Iran to pursue production of radioisotopes for medical purposes, “while constituting a useful gesture that could contribute to reducing tensions over the nuclear issue.’’ He gave no further details.

In Washington, Ian Kelly, State Department spokesman, said the draft agreement was “a very positive step.’’

Over the past days, both the head of Iran’s atomic energy department, Ali Akbar Salehi, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated that Iran would not give up its rights to uranium enrichment. That suggests Iran plans to keep its enrichment facilities active, an assurance against the fears that the fuel supply from abroad could be cut off.