Iran stalls nuclear deal with demand for reactor fuel, envoy says

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Iran is demanding full delivery of reactor fuel before it gives up its stash of low-enriched uranium and has balked at further efforts to hold international talks on its nuclear program, according to a senior European diplomat.

The diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy involved, said prospects for a breakthrough with Iran have narrowed dramatically since a high-level meeting in Geneva on Oct. 1, when Iran tentatively approved a deal to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium and agreed to hold another set of talks by the end of October. Instead, the reactor deal appears to be falling apart, and there are no prospects for talks before the governing body of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets this month to consider whether Iran violated international obligations by building a nuclear facility near the city of Qom.

Such a finding would probably result in yet another referral to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, the diplomat said.

The diplomat said he thought the breakdown in the discussions has little to do with the nuclear issue and instead is the result of a tense struggle within the Iranian political system. The issue has "paralyzed the decision-making process in Tehran," he said. "It is a battle over who is tougher or who is more anti-American, and we are in a situation so ridiculous that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is in the middle."

Ahmadinejad -- considered a hard-liner in the West -- promoted the idea of seeking an agreement with the West to acquire new reactor fuel for a medical research facility that helps detect and treat diseases. Major powers offered to convert a substantial portion of Iran's low-enriched uranium into the necessary reactor fuel at facilities in Russia and France. But according to the diplomat, Iran then said it would not ship its uranium out of the country until it received upfront all of the reactor fuel it needs for the facility. There is discussion of perhaps a third country holding Iran's stock under IAEA supervision, the diplomat said, but he expressed pessimism that the impasse could be broken.

"We keep using the Russians to pass tough messages every day, saying: 'This is a good deal. Take it,' " he said.

During the Geneva talks, which started with no official agenda, Iranian diplomats refused to discuss Tehran's uranium-enrichment program, though Western powers raised the issue, the diplomat said. Diplomats had hoped that Iran would begin to engage on its nuclear ambitions at the planned follow-up meeting, but it has refused to agree to any agenda that lists the nuclear program, he said.

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