Iran Nuclear NewsIran’s proposal to end nuclear standoff is rejected by...

Iran’s proposal to end nuclear standoff is rejected by the West

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New York Times: Iran has proposed that France organize and monitor the production of enriched uranium inside Iran, complicating negotiations over the fate of its nuclear program. The New York Times

By ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: October 4, 2006

PARIS, Oct. 3 — Iran has proposed that France organize and monitor the production of enriched uranium inside Iran, complicating negotiations over the fate of its nuclear program.

The United States, France and Britain rejected the proposal on Tuesday, saying it was a stalling tactic and fell far short of the United Nations Security Council’s demand that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

The proposal, made by Mohammad Saeidi, the deputy director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was presented as a sign of flexibility in negotiations between Iran and six world powers represented by the European Union.

“In order to reach a solution, we’ve just had an idea: we propose that France create a consortium for the production in Iran of enriched uranium,” Mr. Saeidi said in an interview in Tehran with France Info radio that was broadcast Tuesday.

A senior French official on Tuesday said: “This is totally excluded. There is nothing substantive behind it. This is not the first time the Iranians have tried to divide the international community.”

Another senior European official — who, like the first, spoke on condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules — said that proposal “seemed to have the intention of distracting.”

The United States, meanwhile, is giving Iran until the end of the week to declare whether it will agree to fully stop making enriched uranium or face sanctions. Enriched uranium can be used to make energy or to fuel weapons, and Washington has consistently taken the position that any uranium enrichment on Iranian soil is out of the question because it could give Iran the ability to master the nuclear fuel cycle.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of the other five governments involved in the negotiations with Iran — Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — have discussed the possibility of meeting in London on Friday to plot a strategy for the next steps, officials said.

While at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Tuesday, Ms. Rice told reporters that there was nothing new in the Iranian proposal, and that it continued to fall far short of international demands.

“The Iranians have floated it before,” she said, suggesting that the United States would reject any proposal that allowed Iran to enrich and reprocess uranium on its own soil. “This may be a stalling technique.”

The Iranian proposal, which has been rejected by Iran’s negotiating partners in the past, comes as Iran has hardened its position in negotiations between Ali Larijani, its chief nuclear negotiator, and Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief.

Mr. Solana reported to the six governments in recent days that Mr. Larijani rejected the calls to halt key nuclear activities even though Iran could face sanctions by the Security Council, three senior European officials said.

Instead, in meetings in Berlin with Mr. Solana last week, Mr. Larijani floated the idea of the creation of an international consortium to administer Iran’s production of enriched uranium. He did not mention France as the central player, the officials said.

In what was widely perceived as a stalling tactic, Mr. Larijani also spent much of his time in recent conversations with Mr. Solana, airing Iran’s historical grievances against the rest of the world.

Specifically, Mr. Larijani told Mr. Solana that Iran’s current enrichment activities would have to continue, and that Iran would consider only a temporary halt to the expansion of its uranium enrichment program, the officials added.

The six powers, through Mr. Solana, had been trying to persuade the Iranians to accept a three-month halt on all uranium enrichment activities at their vast plant at Natanz and on construction at the plutonium plant at Arak, the European officials said. Uranium conversion, an earlier stage of processing, would have been allowed to continue at the Isfahan plant.

These officials also spoke on condition of anonymity under normal rules of diplomacy.

There is also increasing frustration among European governments with Mr. Solana for presenting the results of his talks in too positive a light, several European officials said.

Mr. Solana has acknowledged the lack of progress on substantive issues, telling reporters in Finland on Monday, “The fundamental matter of suspension has not been agreed.” But he has repeatedly pointed to “progress” on peripheral issues, like where and when further negotiations with the six governments would take place.

On Tuesday, Mr. Solana appeared to keep the door open to Iran’s new proposal, describing it as “interesting,” and adding, “This is something we have to analyze in greater detail.”

In the radio interview, Mr. Saeidi proposed that Iran’s uranium enrichment activities would be monitored “in a tangible way” by Eurodif, a multinational enrichment consortium based in France, and by Areva, the France-based nuclear energy giant and majority shareholder in Eurodif.

Eighty-seven percent of Areva is held by French governmental institutions, and the company has vast interests in the United States ($1.8 billion in earnings in America in 2005) that it may not want to jeopardize by seeming to negotiate with Iran.

Philip Shenon contributed reporting from Cairo.

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