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U.S., Allies Urge Iran To Formally Commit To Uranium Deal

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

The United States and its allies are urging Iran to formally commit to a United Nations-backed deal in which Iranian low-enriched uranium would be traded for nuclear fuel under a deal aimed at easing concerns over the purpose of Iran's nuclear program.

U.S., British, and German officials have called on Iran to contact the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to confirm President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's remarks this week suggesting that Iran is ready to send its uranium abroad as part of the proposed deal negotiated last October.

In Washington, Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton said Iran's on-again, off-again acceptance of the offer has unified the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who are negotiating with Iran -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- as well as Germany.

But Burton said the group is hoping Iran is prepared live up to its obligations on its nuclear program and accept the deal offered by the IAEA.

Germany, France, Russia, and China have all expressed uncertainty about Iran's intentions.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she's more interested in Iran's actions than its words. Her foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said it's one thing for Ahmadinejad to make the statement in a television interview, and another for his government to reply formally to the IAEA.

"In the last few months and the last two years, we have experienced many maneuvers by Iran. That's why it is actions that count, not words," Westerwelle said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, were in Tehran on February 3,. Kouchner said he would like to put a positive interpretation on Ahmadinejad's comments, but that he's seen no progress in the talks in nearly three years.

Yang, meanwhile, urged patience to see exactly how Iran responds to the IAEA. "I think the priority is to discuss these proposals so that we can come to a consensus as early as possible to comprehensively resolve the problem of Iran," he said.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it seemed that in recent weeks Iran had initially accepted the IAEA deal, then tried to suggest alternatives.

New UN Sanctions

France, meanwhile, has joined calls for potential new UN sanctions on Iran. Prime Minister Francois Fillon on February 3 said France would push for what he called "strong" new UN sanctions.

Fillon said the Iranian government has not accepted an offer of dialogue from world powers, but has instead rushed forward with its nuclear program. Fillon said it was "not too late to use the political process to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear military capacity," but acknowledged that "time is pressing."

Any new UN sanctions would mark the fourth set of international punitive measures against Iran over the nuclear issue.

The enriched-uranium proposal, aimed at easing Western concerns that Iran could use the uranium for a potential nuclear weapon, has been backed by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Iran denies any move to make a nuclear weapon, saying its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

compiled from agency reports