Iran Nuclear NewsIran calls for uranium enrichment on its soil, with...

Iran calls for uranium enrichment on its soil, with the world’s help

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ImageThe Guardian: The Iranian government has proposed the creation of an international consortium to enrich uranium on its own soil as a way of defusing the tense standoff over its nuclear programme.

The Guardian

  • Open nuclear centres with foreign staff proposed
    West's approach is not working, diplomat says

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor

ImageThe Iranian government has proposed the creation of an international consortium to enrich uranium on its own soil as a way of defusing the tense standoff over its nuclear programme.

The proposal is part of a "new and comprehensive initiative" put forward by Iran ahead of a planned visit to Tehran by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, accompanied by senior officials from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

A date for the Tehran trip has yet to be agreed but Iranian sources suggested an official announcement could be made tomorrow. If it goes ahead, it will be the highest level international delegation to Iran for five years. The aim would be to put diplomatic weight behind a package of incentives for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment as the UN security council has proposed.

"The idea would be to make sure this package gets the attention it deserves, and perhaps has not been given by Tehran up to now," a European diplomat said.

Iranian officials will want to discuss their counter-proposal, the existence of which was first announced by Rasoul Movahedian, Tehran's ambassador in London, in a Guardian interview this month. It was delivered to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on May 13 but had not been made public until now.

It has emerged at the same time as an open letter to the Brown government from a former senior British diplomat, Sir John Thomson, urging it to consider the option of an international commercial partnership to enrich uranium in Iran, arguing current western policy "is not working".

Billed as "a proposed package for constructive negotiations", the Iranian proposal consists largely of vague suggestions for regional cooperation on energy, drug control and the environment, but on the nuclear issue it includes some distinct new proposals.

Most importantly, it calls for "establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world – including in Iran".

In the past, Iran has been offered similar partnerships outside its territory, but it has insisted that it has a sovereign right to build a comprehensive nuclear programme, including a full uranium fuel cycle, on its own soil.

Because Iran kept its nuclear ambitions secret for 20 years and evidence surfaced pointing to a possible parallel weapons programme, the security council has demanded Iran suspend its enrichment of uranium. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has ignored waves of sanctions, and accelerated enrichment work involving thousands of centrifuges near the city of Natanz, insisting it is for peaceful energy production purposes.

Despite the publication of a US intelligence last November concluding that Iran stopped work on weaponisation in 2003, the Bush White House, and vice-president Dick Cheney in particular, are reported to be contemplating military options before its term expires next January.

"To be blunt, western policy is not working," Thomson, Britain's former ambassador to the UN, said in a letter to the Brown government this week.

Asked about the Iranian proposal yesterday, Thomson said: "This clearly needs studying, we don't want to miss another opportunity for a serious negotiation."

He acknowledged there would be risks involved in establishing an international uranium consortium on Iranian soil, but argued they are easier to control than the dangers of the current diplomatic limbo.

"Our plan also provides that the multilateral partnership would take over all Iranian enrichment related facilities, not just the centrifuges," Thomson said. "In addition there would be international personnel on duty at every stage of the enrichment operation – on each shift in the plant, in personnel management … in the guard rooms, etc."

There would also be powerful disincentives against any Iranian attempt at taking over the consortium, he added, because "expropriation would be tantamount to telling the world Iran was about to make a weapon but did not have one yet – a particularly dangerous predicament if you have powerful enemies."

The consortium idea is gaining ground in foreign policy circles in the US, but it is resisted by the US, French and British governments in particular, because they argue it would make it easier for Iran to run a parallel covert facility.

However, a British official said: "We would be ready to discuss it, as soon as Iran does what it knows it has to" – suspend enrichment.

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