Iran says uranium swap would have to occur on its soil

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TEHRAN -- Iran would be willing to give up some of its stock of low-enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for a medical reactor, as long as the swap takes place on its own soil, Iranian officials told local media Tuesday.

The arrangement would significantly alter a proposal advanced by the United States, Russia and France under which Iran's stock would be sent abroad to be processed into fuel for a small research reactor in Tehran.

The plan, crafted with the International Atomic Energy Agency, was designed to significantly reduce Iran's enriched-uranium stock in order to delay its ability to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon and allow a period for negotiations on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran denies that it has any intention of building a nuclear bomb and insists that its program is aimed only at generating electricity.

The United States, Russia and France have indicated that they would reject any swap on Iranian soil, and the IAEA had sought to persuade Iran to accept a neutral country such as Turkey as a repository for Iran's enriched uranium.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman did not completely rule out shipping Iran's enriched uranium out of the country but said that Tehran demanded a "100 percent" guarantee that the other nations would keep their promise. "Regarding the guarantees, we are not going to suggest anything, but one . . . could be exchanging it on Iranian soil," Ramin Mehmanparast said at a news conference.

His remark followed Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's complete rejection last week of a proposed shipment abroad.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Tuesday, also said trading the fuel on Iranian soil was the only guarantee Iran would accept. "By solid guarantees Tehran means concurrent fuel swap inside the country," Salehi said.

IAEA officials have said they have not received a formal answer from Iran to the proposal, but Iranian officials insisted that the IAEA had received a response. That assertion could not be confirmed with IAEA officials.

"I'm not sure exactly what they mean by 100 percent guarantees, but this is a very, very good proposal on the table," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday in Washington. "Unfortunately, Iran has so far refused to accept the proposal, and has refused to engage."

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