Saturday, September 17, 2005

Iran Seeks Compromise in N-fuel Stand-off

The Financial Times:
Iran is to propose international joint ventures in its nuclear programme as a means of providing an “objective guarantee” that it cannot be diverted to weapons use, senior Iranian officials have told the Financial Times. Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran's new president, is set to make the new proposal on Saturday before the United Nations General Assembly.

Iran will suggest international co-operation for uranium enrichment, and invite Europe, Russia, China and South Africa to joint ventures in which Iran keeps its nuclear fuel cycle while the international community can make sure there is no diversion,” said a senior official involved in two years of talks with the European Union on Iran's nuclear programme.

The co-operation is not necessarily for new [nuclear] sites it can be in the sites we already have,” said Ali Agha-Mohammadi, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council. READ MORE

It is not clear whether Iran's suggestion would include the more sensitive sites in the country and European diplomats were sceptical that it would be acceptable to their governments.

Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary of state, also emphasised the US position that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear fuel cycle capability.

The proposal could complicate the troubled attempt by the US and the EU to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is purely peaceful.

The US and the EU, which suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, have been pushing to report Tehran to the UN for concealing elements of its nuclear programme in the past.

The central disagreement in the talks with Iran over its nuclear programme has been Europe's desire that Tehran give up uranium enrichment as the only “objective guarantee” that the programme is purely civil.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, will discuss the issue next week. But faced with opposition from China, Russia and India, diplomatic efforts have shifted to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and renew its suspension of fuel cycle development.

“We are waiting for a signal from Iran,” said Mr Burns.

“The issue of a referral is something that we'll be working for a while,” Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, told Fox News yesterday. “I don't think this matter is so urgent that it has to be on September 19.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general, has already suggested giving Iran more time to meet international concerns.

“We have to think about the tactics for September 19 because the tactics we have followed so far have not borne fruit,” added a European diplomat.

Reporting by Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Gareth Smyth in Tehran, Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Guy Dinmore and James Blitz at the United Nations.