Wall Street Journal: Iran asked on Thursday for changes to an International Atomic Energy Agency proposal to ship nuclear fuel out of the country for reprocessing abroad. The Wall Street Journal
Request to IAEA Represents Big Setback for Nuclear Talks
By CHIP CUMMINS, JAY SOLOMON and DAVID CRAWFORD
Iran asked on Thursday for changes to an International Atomic Energy Agency proposal to ship nuclear fuel out of the country for reprocessing abroad.
The request represents a significant setback in attempts by the international community to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Just last week, negotiators from the U.S., France and Russia left the table with Iranian counterparts in Vienna optimistic that they had hammered out a deal acceptable to all parties.
Iran's response also raises a fresh challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has made engagement with Tehran a major plank of his foreign policy. U.S. and European officials have said they won't extend negotiations indefinitely, suggesting a year-end deadline to determine good faith on the part of Tehran. Pursuing further compromise on the deal may look like weakness. But Washington may have little leverage to do much else.
The Obama administration has threatened tough new sanctions if talks fail, but United Nations Security Council members China and Russia remain opposed. Washington and its allies are exploring sanctions outside the U.N. framework, but it is unclear how effective such measures would be.
U.S. officials Thursday said they were evaluating Tehran's response. "We need further clarification. And I think it's also fair to say that we need to have a formal response from Iran," said U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly. "At this point, we've been given some details of it, but we're still talking to the Iranians about it."
Privately, senior U.S. officials working on Iran said they fear the move is aimed at drawing out negotiations or further splitting Washington from other members of the U.N. on the issue of sanctions. "We assumed they'd try and drag this out," said a U.S. official. "It's their modus operandi."
Details of Iran's objections to the proposed deal weren't clear late Thursday. In a statement, the IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, said only that it had received an "initial response" from Tehran to the proposal.
The IAEA said the agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, is "engaged in consultations with the government of Iran as well as all relevant parties, with the hope that agreement on [the] proposal can be reached soon." An IAEA spokesman declined to discuss the changes Iran has sought.
The draft agreement envisioned Iran shipping out the bulk of its low-enriched uranium to Russia, which would enrich it further for use in an Iranian medical-research reactor. The plan was designed to temporarily keep Iran's store of low-enriched nuclear fuel below the threshold required to build a nuclear weapon.
The deal was seen as an important first step in winning cooperation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Iran says it is interested in developing only nuclear energy, while Western and Arab officials worry it intends to build weapons.
Iranian officials in recent days had suggested they would object to any provision that would see them shipping out all of the fuel at once.
—Joshua Mitnick contributed to this article.