Iran's top officials appear split over sending uranium abroad

By Thomas Erdbrink
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TEHRAN -- High-ranking Iranian officials appear divided over a draft proposal with the United States and other countries that would transfer the bulk of the Islamic republic's enriched uranium stockpile out of the country.

The divergent views have emerged in a string of reports in the official press and other media outlets over the past several days. On Friday, Iran missed a deadline to respond to the proposal, which would allow the country to acquire fuel for its medical reactor.

In what may mark a possible compromise position, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Monday that Iran could either send part of its low-enriched uranium stockpile abroad for specialized processing into fuel or buy the material from foreign suppliers.

"In order to obtain this fuel, we might spend money as in the past or we might present part of the fuel that we have right now, and currently do not need, for further processing," he was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

But several influential lawmakers, the leading pro-government newspaper and the former top nuclear negotiator have all spoken out against the deal. They say the West is trying to deceive the country and keep the nuclear material in order to sabotage Iran's atomic progress.

"Iran's response is that it will not give even one milligram of its enriched uranium to be changed into 20 percent enriched uranium by foreigners," according to a column Monday in the pro-government newspaper Kayhan, which often reflects the views of decision-makers within Iran's leadership. "America, Europe and Israel, these American cowboys, old British foxes and Zionist child murderers, want to use this ploy to take Iran's uranium and not give it back."

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, called for an urgent deal with Tehran, saying it was the only way to avoid an Israeli strike against Iran. Israel "will not tolerate an Iranian bomb. We know that, all of us. So that is an additional risk, and that is why we must decrease the tension and solve the problem. Hopefully we are going to stop this race to a confrontation," Kouchner told London's Daily Telegraph.

In a remark possibly related to the current negotiations, the deputy head of parliament, a known critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Monday that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, was opposed to negotiations with the United States.

"At the present time, the leader and the Supreme National Security Council stress that our strategic policies are not to negotiate with the U.S.," said Mohammad Reza Bahonar, according to the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency. "Therefore we will not have direct negotiations with America."

Khamenei officially sets out Iran's foreign policies, which are implemented by the Supreme National Security Council.

Ahmadinejad has often said he is ready for talks with the United States, and last month during negotiations between Iran and world powers over the Islamic republic's nuclear program, representatives of both countries had a private discussion. There has been no government reaction to Bahonar's remarks.

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