Daily Telegraph: Iran defied the West by missing a deadline it had been set to agree to hand over its stockpiles of enriched uranium for processing abroad. The Daily Telegraph
Iran defied the West by missing a deadline it had been set to agree to hand over its stockpiles of enriched uranium for processing abroad.
By Richard Spencer in Dubai
Tehran frustrated hopes it would move quickly to resolve fears about its nuclear programme by saying it would only give a formal response "next week".
However, in an apparent effort to buy time after stalling the negotiations, an Iranian nuclear official insisted the regime was "considering the proposal in depth and in a favourable light".
It had earlier said it was making fresh proposals under which it would keep its current stocks and buy even more enriched uranium for its civilian research reactor.
Reports from Tehran suggested that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had refused to back the original deal, put forward by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, in talks in Vienna.
Even though it would have enabled Iran to continue its enrichment programme, the leadership was not prepared to see so much of its principal bargaining chip leave the country in one go.
If delay turns into rejection or another series of protracted talks, it will be a disappointment to its negotiating partners, the United States, France and Russia, and deal the biggest blow yet to President Barack Obama's policy of diplomatic engagement with "pariah states".
It will add weight to those in Britain, France and America who believe that Iran may not be building a nuclear weapon now but wants to maintain its stockpiles of low enriched uranium so that it can stage a quick "break-out" to manufacture one in the future.
Under the deal, the Iranians would hand over three quarters of their stockpile of 1.5 tons of uranium, enriched to five per cent, to Russia, who would further refine it to 20 per cent, possibly with French help. It would then be returned in "fuel plate" form for use in Iran's long-standing research reactor, which has medical uses.
Iran is thought not to have the technical ability to convert fuel plates to the 90 per cent enrichment levels needed for a bomb.
However, its total stockpiles, if they do not leave the country, could be enriched from their current state sufficiently to create a single bomb within a year, according to western security analysts.
Iran's alternative proposal would fail any test of acceptability by the West. It would mean abandoning a key part of existing sanctions, which prevent the sale of nuclear-related material, while doing nothing to reduce fears over the current state of the country's nuclear programme.
"Iran is interested in buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor within the framework of a clear proposal," an unnamed source close to Iran's nuclear negotiating team told state television in the government's first response. "We are waiting for the other party's constructive and trust-building response.
"The other party is expected to avoid past mistakes in violating agreements and to gain Iran's trust."
The West's best hope is that this is just a tactic to draw out negotiations further.
The United States said it could wait a "few more days".
"We hope that they will next week provide a positive response," the state department's spokesman Ian Kelly said. "Obviously we would have preferred to have a response today. We approach this with a sense of urgency."
News of the delay was given after the other three countries had all signalled their agreement. "We will give our answer to Mr ElBaradei next week," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, its ambassador to the IAEA, said.
An IAEA statement said: "Iran informed the director general today that it is considering the proposal in depth and in a favourable light, but it needs time until the middle of next week to provide a response.
"The director general hopes that Iran's response will equally be positive, since approval of this agreement will signal a new era of cooperation."