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Top Iranian Officials Question Nuclear Deal

Saturday, 24 Oct 2009 03:18 PM

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TEHRAN, Iran – Top Iranian figures criticised on Saturday a UN-brokered deal to produce nuclear fuel for Tehran from its own partly enriched uranium, apparently challenging what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself has proposed.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said Western powers are trying to "cheat" Iran through the deal, under which Tehran would export low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be further enriched and converted into nuclear fuel for a reactor in Tehran.

"Westerners are insisting to go in a direction that speaks of cheating and are imposing some things on us," Larijani told ISNA news agency.

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"They are saying we will give you the 20 percent (enriched uranium) fuel for the Tehran reactor only if you give us your enriched uranium. I see no link between these two things."

But that is essentially what Ahmadinejad himself proposed on September 30.

"We need 19.75 percent-enriched uranium. We said that, and we propose to buy it from anybody who is ready to sell it to us.

"We are ready to give 3.5 percent-enriched uranium and then they can enrich it more and deliver to us 19.75 percent-enriched uranium," the president said.

Ahmadinejad was speaking just ahead of an October 1 meeting in Geneva at which the proposal was apparently discussed, and which drew a positive reaction from Russia and France.

The full details of deal eventually hammered out have not been released, but France has said it calls on Iran to hand over to Russia by the end of the year 1,200 kilogrammes of LEU it has at a plant in Natanz.

Russia would enrich the material to the 19.75 percent level needed for use in a research reactor in Tehran that makes radio-isotopes for medical use.

Diplomats say Russia would sub-contract to France the process of turning the enriched uranium into the fuel rods for the reactor.

But ISNA said Larijani, Iran's former nuclear negotiator, termed the deal as illegal and illogical.

"The important thing in this nuclear issue is that Westerners should not cheat. We have a nuclear reactor in Tehran and according to the IAEA rules, they have to supply the fuel for it," Larijani said.

The chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, also questioned the deal.

He said Iran would be better off buying nuclear fuel directly than entering into the deal.

"It is better to buy 20 percent enriched fuel and keep the 3.5 percent for our domestic power plants ... than give it to those countries," ISNA quoted Borujerdi as saying.

"Iran itself needs the 3.5 percent enriched fuel, so it is in its interest to keep it," Borujerdi said.

Amid these criticisms, Ali Bagheri, member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team, said Iran would receive 110 kilos of 20 percent enriched uraniun in return for its 1,200 kilos of LEU.

"The 110 kilos is enough as fuel for 10 to 15 years for the Tehran reactor," ISNA quoted him as saying.

Iran was scheduled to give its response to the IAEA deal by Friday, but has delayed it until next week.

Late on Friday, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran was still "examining" the deal and he would give Tehran's response to IAEA next week.

Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear programme. It produces fuel for civilian reactors, but in highly extended form can also make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Western powers led by Washington suspect Tehran is enriching uranium with the ultimate aim of making the bomb, a charge Iran strongly denies.

World powers are concerned that Iran's LEU, if not shipped out, could be further enriched in-house by Iran to weapons grade.

Meanwhile, UN inspectors are set on Sunday to enter Iran's second uranium enrichment plant under construction near the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran.

Iran's disclosure of the Qom facility to the IAEA on September 21 triggered shockwaves amongst world powers, with US President Barack Obama warning that Iran would face "increased pressure" if it does not come clean on its nuclear activities.

Copyright AFP 2009. All rights reserved.

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