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U.S. Wants Clarity, EU Urges Iran To Accept Nuclear Deal

Iran's research reactor in Tehran
(RFE/RL) -- The United States continues to seek clarification on Iran's response to a UN-drafted deal that envisages sending Tehran's low-enriched uranium abroad for refining into nuclear fuel, while EU leaders have urged Iran to accept the draft agreement.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week proposed a draft agreement under which the country would send a single shipment of up to 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for further processing. Russia would then send the material to France for conversion into nuclear fuel, which in turn would be sent back to Iran to power a nuclear reactor to produce radio-isotopes for cancer treatment.

The United States, meanwhile, would reportedly upgrade safety and instrumentation at the facility, which Washington built during the 1950s.

The United States, Russia, and France have already agreed to the deal, intended to ease fears that Iran could use its stockpile of LEU to develop nuclear weapons.

The IAEA on October 29 confirmed that it had received Iran's "initial" response to the plan, but neither Iranian representatives nor the IAEA have commented on the content of Iran's official response. The IAEA press office told RFE/RL on October 30 that the UN agency "would not give interviews at this point."

U.S. Wants 'Further Clarification'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was still looking into Iran's response to the deal.

Clinton told CNN television, "We are working to determine exactly what they are willing to do, whether this was an initial response that is an end response or whether it's the beginning of getting to where we expect them to end up."

Clinton said the United States, the IAEA, France, and Russia were all "united and showing resolve in responding to the Iranian response."

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly told reporters on October 29 that Iran needs to explain its own position more clearly.

"We need further clarification, and I think it's also fair to say that we need to have a formal response from Iran at this point," Kelly said. "We've been given some details of it, but we're still talking to the Iranians about it."

EU Urges Approval

In a statement on October 30, the European Union urged Iran to cooperate with the international community to resolve questions over the nature of its nuclear program.

"The European Council reaffirms its grave concern over the development of Iran's nuclear program and Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations," the EU statement read.

A statement due to be issued by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels said progress on the deal "would pave the way for enhanced relations between the EU and Iran and open the way to mutually beneficial cooperation."

The Iranian pro-government newspaper "Javan" reported on October 29 that Tehran had proposed major changes to the deal, including shipping abroad its LEU in batches, instead of sending it all at once.

"Javan" also reported that Iran wants to receive nuclear fuel bought from the West to run a Tehran research reactor at the same time as it ships its LEU abroad. "Javan" called it a "simultaneous exchange."

Deal Off?

"The New York Times" quoted an unnamed European official as saying that the "key issue is that Iran does not agree to export its lightly enriched uranium" and that Tehran's response is being treated "basically as a refusal."

Iran's reluctance to ship its LEU in one shipment is seen as a major setback for the plan as well as for Western efforts to resolve the long-standing crisis over the Iranian nuclear program through diplomacy.

As the European official quoted by "The New York Times" explained, "that’s not a minor detail. That's the whole point of the deal."

If estimates of the Iranian stockpile are accurate, the idea was that after sending the LEU abroad, the country would be left with too little of the material fuel to potentially develop a nuclear weapon.

It remains unclear whether the West would be willing to continue negotiations with Tehran over the draft deal in spite of the reported discrepancy in Iran and Western powers' position over the key element of the plan.

A U.S. Senate committee on October 29 backed legislation that could give the Obama administration the authority to impose tougher sanctions on Iran -- including penalizing companies that provide Iran with gasoline -- for failing to cooperate with the international community over concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

compiled from agency reports