Iranian Nuclear Scientists Willing to Meet With International Experts

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 23 -- Iran is willing to have its nuclear experts meet with scientists from the United States and other world powers as a confidence-building measure aimed at resolving concerns about Tehran's nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

At international talks next week on its nuclear ambitions, Iran also will seek to buy from the United States enriched uranium needed for medical purposes, Ahmadinejad told reporters and editors from The Washington Post and Newsweek. Agreement by the Americans, he suggested, would demonstrate that the Obama administration is serious about engagement, while rejection might give Iran an excuse to further enrich its stock of uranium.

"These nuclear materials we are seeking to purchase are for medicinal purposes. . . . It is a humanitarian issue," Ahmadinejad said in the interview. "I think this is a very solid proposal which gives a good opportunity for a start" to build trust between the two countries and "engage in cooperation."

Nuclear research reactors are used to create radioactive isotopes for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. The Iranian president said that about 20 medical products are created at a reactor in Tehran but that more fuel is needed.

Ahmadinejad made his proposal against the backdrop of increasingly urgent efforts by the United States and other major powers to prod Iran to fully disclose its nuclear program or face stricter sanctions. On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday discussed the possibility of what Obama called "serious, additional sanctions," while France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, told French television that the "dialogue is achieving nothing. There will be a timeline, a date limit. In my mind, it's the month of December."

Medvedev, echoing a statement he made last week, said: "Russia's position is simple: Sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable."

On Oct. 1, a senior Iranian diplomat will meet counterparts from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany in Geneva to discuss the nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad said he will bring the new proposal. In a meeting Wednesday evening at the United Nations, foreign ministers and senior officials from the six countries met to plot strategy for the session.

"We expect a serious response from Iran" and will decide on "next steps" if it is not forthcoming, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement approved by the six nations.

Obama singled out Iran and North Korea as nuclear outliers in his speech before the General Assembly on Wednesday. "If they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East, then they must be held accountable," he said as Ahmadinejad sat in the fifth row of the chamber. "The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear."

Iran's medical reactor was supplied by the United States during the shah's rule. But according to David Albright, a former weapons inspector who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, Iran received additional uranium only from Argentina after the 1979 revolution. Argentina cut off those supplies sometime in the 1980s.

Albright said Iran's latest move is "clever" because there is "implied blackmail" behind the idea. If the material is not supplied, Iran could announce that it has no choice but to make the material, which is nearly 20 percent enriched; the material Iran is now producing is 3 to 5 percent enriched and suitable only for energy purposes. Allowing Iran to purchase the new material would require a waiver of international sanctions.

While weapons-grade material is more than 90 percent enriched, making material for the medical reactor could put Iran on the next step to reaching that level.

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