TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran wants major amendments within the framework of a UN nuclear-fuel deal that it says it broadly accepts, a move that could unravel the plan and expose Tehran to the threat of harsher sanctions.
The European Union's foreign-policy chief said on October 27 there was no need to rework the UN draft and he and France's foreign minister suggested Tehran would expose itself to tougher international sanctions if tried to undo the plan.
Among the central planks of the plan opposed by Iran -- but requested by the West to cut the risk of an Iranian atomic bomb -- was for it to send most of its low-enriched-uranium reserve abroad for processing all in one go, state television said.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only for nuclear power-plant fuel, not for weaponry. But its history of nuclear secrecy and continued restrictions on UN inspections have raised Western suspicions of a covert bomb agenda.
Citing an unnamed official, Iran's official Arabic-language satellite television station said on October 27 Iran would present its response to the proposed agreement within 48 hours, a week after a deadline set by its author, UN nuclear watchdog chief Muhammad el-Baradei.
Al-Alam said Iran would "agree to the general framework of the draft proposal but will request some important amendments."
It did not elaborate on the changes Tehran would seek to the draft agreement el-Baradei hammered out in consultations with Iran, Russia, France, and the United States in Vienna last week.
But senior lawmakers have said Iran should import foreign fuel rather than send abroad by the end of this year much of its own low-enriched uranium (LEU) stock -- its crucial strategic asset in talks with world powers -- as the proposal calls for.
Iran's foreign minister said on October 26 it may want to do both under the deal, hinting Tehran could ship out much less LEU than the amount big powers want to delay by at least a year the possibility of Iran "weaponizing" enriched uranium.
The draft pact calls for Iran to transfer around 75 percent of its known 1.5 tons of LEU to Russia for further enrichment by the end of this year, then to France for conversion into fuel plates. These would be returned to Tehran to power a research reactor that produces radio-isotopes for cancer treatment.
High-Level Understandings In Geneva
Understandings on the fuel plan and UN monitoring of a newly disclosed enrichment site under construction were forged at Geneva talks on October 1 between Iran and six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain.
A team of UN inspectors arrived in Iran early on October 25 to visit the new site 160 kilometers south of Tehran. Western diplomats said Iran was forced to reveal the plant to the UN nuclear agency last month after learning that Western spy services had detected it.
Iran's pledges in Geneva deflated pressure for wider sanctions targeting its oil sector, but Western powers stressed they would not wait indefinitely for Tehran to follow through.
They see the two deals as litmus tests of Iran's stated intent to use enriched uranium only for peaceful ends and a basis for more ambitious negotiations on curbing enrichment by Tehran to resolve a standoff over its nuclear aspirations.
"It's not a good sign...it is a bad indication," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, referring to the latest Iranian statements.
"Time is running out for the Iranians.... This [Middle East] region is inflammable. It's an explosive circle and I do not think that in such a context the Iranians can play for time. That is very dangerous," he said.
"If there is the necessity -- but we might not see it until the end of the year -- we would start work on new sanctions," EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said.
Diplomats said the EU ministers had already asked the EU executive to look into further sanctions that could be imposed.
El-Baradei said Iran could not evade shifting most of its LEU abroad if it expected to satisfy calls to remove mistrust.
"That's important, absolutely. Our objective is to reduce tension and create a climate of confidence. Removing this material would provide a year for negotiating in peace and quiet," he told the French weekly "l'Express."
"This would allow the Iranians to show that they are speaking the truth, if this is the case, that they are indeed enriching uranium for peaceful purposes," he said.
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on October 26 Iran would announce its decision on the pact in the next few days.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of parliament's Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, said no LEU should go abroad except in staggered, small batches as he feared there would no guarantees Iran would get it back.
That is a nonstarter for Western and UN officials since there would be no net drawdown of Iran's LEU stockpile.