Iran Nuclear NewsIran suggests ‘impossible’ deal over nuclear fuel in surprise...

Iran suggests ‘impossible’ deal over nuclear fuel in surprise move

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ImageThe Times: Iran has drawn up tough conditions on its proposed deal to ship out stocks of nuclear fuel, condemning the agreement to failure, The Times has learned. The Times

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

ImageIran has drawn up tough conditions on its proposed deal to ship out stocks of nuclear fuel, condemning the agreement to failure, The Times has learned.

Western leaders greeted with scepticism President Ahmadinejad’s sudden announcement on Tuesday that Iran was ready to hand over low-enriched uranium in return for a higher grade of fuel, a move aimed at building confidence and putting off Iran’s acquisition of material to fuel a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s conditions, contained in a written proposal given to British parliamentarians, include handing over its fuel in two batches on Iranian soil — both deal breakers in previous negotiations.

Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP and chairman of the British-Iranian All-Party Parliamentary Group, was given a copy of the proposal on Wednesday by the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is overseeing the deal.

Mr Wallace told the Times that the proposal called for an initial batch of 160 kg of 3.5 per cent low enriched uranium to be swapped for the corresponding quantity of 20 per cent enriched uranium.

Mr. Wallace said the Iranians were asking for the swap to take place within Iran and for the higher enriched fuel to be handed over simultaneously rather than delay long enough to reprocess the Iranian material.

A further 800 kg would be sealed and handed over to the safekeeping of the IAEA until the first deal was completed.

“The idea would be to kickstart the process by handing over the 20 percent uranium simultaneously,” Mr Wallace said. “It’s meant to be a confidence building exercise.”

The details are unlikely to inspire much confidence in the West, however, given the rejection of several previous Iranian initiatives containing the same conditions. The IAEA refused to comment yesterday on whether it has received the document as an expression of the official Iranian position.

News of the conditions came as signs grew of the uphill battle Washington faces in persuading Russia and China to back punishing new sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council.

Russia had appeared to be leaning closer towards sanctions after Iran’s refusal to back the deal which Moscow helped broker. Yesterday Russia’s foreign minister held surprise talks with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference while China insisted Tehran was still open to the deal.

“We believe Iran has not totally shut the door on the IAEA proposal on nuclear fuel supply,” Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister said in Munich.

“We believe this issue should best be solved through diplomatic means so as to maintain peace and stability in the Gulf region.”

Meanwhile, William Burns, Washington’s top negotiator on the Iranian nuclear issue, held a 90-minute conference call with his counterparts from China, Russia, Britain and France — the other permanent members of the UN Security Council — and Germany, to discuss both “the pressure track and the negotiation track,” the US State Department said.

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