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Iran's Nuclear Statements Hint At High-Level Split

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran could send low-enriched uranium abroad

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran could send low-enriched uranium abroad

Iran has said it might agree to a UN-drafted deal that envisages sending Tehran's low-enriched uranium abroad to be converted into nuclear fuel, but also left open the possibility that it will buy the fuel from other countries.

The statements are the latest sign of divisions among Iranian officials about whether to accept the UN deal, intended to reduce fears over the country's nuclear activities.

Iran on October 25 allowed UN inspectors to visit a newly disclosed uranium-enrichment facility near the city of Qom, whose disclosure in September increased international concerns over Iran's nuclear intentions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), keen on addressing the issue of who will process Iran's low-enriched uranium, last week proposed a draft agreement under which the country would send much of its stockpile to Russia or France for processing.

Iran missed the IAEA's October 23 deadline for signing the agreement, while the same day reportedly issuing a counterproposal that would allow Tehran to purchase nuclear fuel abroad.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on October 26 that Tehran is considering whether to deliver some of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be upgraded abroad, as laid out in the IAEA's draft, or to instead purchase the nuclear fuel it seeks directly from other countries.

Mottaki was quoted by Iran's official news agency IRNA as saying that his country will adopt one of the two options within days.

Because of UN sanctions imposed in 2006, Iran is currently not allowed to purchase nuclear material from foreign countries.

In Washington, Iran affairs analyst Rasool Nafisi, a professor at Strayer University, expresses skepticism over Iran's intentions.

"Is the government of [President] Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the whole Iranian establishment really interested in reducing tensions with the West? Doesn't it use the reducing of tensions as an instrument to continue its rule and crackdown on the people?" Nafisi says.

Leadership Rift

When Iran missed its October 23 deadline to provide its answer to the IAEA proposal, speculation arose about a rift among Iran's leadership over the terms of the deal.

In recent days several lawmakers including the influential speaker of the parliament and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have criticized the deal, under which Iran would ship about 75 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing into fuel.

The proposed deal would reduce Western fear over Iran's sensitive nuclear-enrichment activities, while giving Tehran the nuclear fuel it needs for a reactor that it says it uses for medical purposes.

But Larijani said on October 24 that the West was trying to cheat Iran and might not returned the enriched uranium.

The head of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaedin Borujerdi, also expressed suspicion over the deal and said that officials should be cautious in their dealings with Western countries.

In comments published on October 26, Borujerdi suggested that Iran should send its low-enriched uranium abroad in several phases for further processing.

On October 25, Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and secretary of the Expediency Council, an intergovernmental mediation body, said a nuclear-fuel accord with the West was not a problem, but that Iran must "keep 1,100 kilograms of LEU."

The Iranian government has tried to portray the recent talks with Western powers as a victory for Iran and a recognition of its right to enrich uranium.

In comments that are likely to be welcomed by the Iranian government and put him at odds with the West, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the British "Guardian" daily that Iran's nuclear activities are "for the purpose of energy only."

Erdogan, who arrives in Iran on October 26 for talks with top Iranian officials including President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggested that the West had treated Iran unfairly over its nuclear activities.

Mansour Farhang, a professor of political science at the U.S.-based Bennington College and Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Iran might have the upper hand in its negotiations with the West but internally it has never been as weak as it is now.

"The press that belong to the government and other government-controlled bodies want to portray even a short-term solution to the nuclear crisis as a major achievement for Iran so that through that they can face the legitimacy crisis [the government] is facing inside the country," Farhang says.

Meanwhile, a four-member team of UN inspectors was expected to conduct more checks for a second day on an Iranian enrichment plant built near the holy city of Qom that was disclosed in September.

Western diplomats have said that Iran was forced into revealing its second enrichment site near Qom to the IAEA because Western intelligence agencies had already detected it.

The inspectors are checking the site to verify whether the Fordo enrichment site was designed for peaceful nuclear purposes as claimed by Iran.

Mottaki on October 26 reiterated again Iran's stance that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

"Our slogan is clear: peaceful nuclear technology for everyone and nuclear weapons for no one," the top Iranian official said.

Radio Farda's Mosadegh Katouzian contributed to this report
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at EsfandiariG@rferl.org

     

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