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IAEA Says Iran Nuclear Fuel Deal Still On

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. The IAEA's offer would let Iran send uranium abroad for enrichment and receive fuel in return.
VIENNA (Reuters) - A proposal for Iran to send most of its enriched uranium abroad to allay fears it will be used to make atom bombs remains on the table, the UN nuclear watchdog said today, despite Tehran's rejection of key terms.

Diplomats versed in the IAEA's contacts with Iran said on January 19 that Tehran, after months of dismissive or ambiguous remarks made through the media, had notified the UN watchdog that it could not accept central aspects of the draft deal.

The United States swiftly rejected Tehran's reply -- which diplomats said was delivered by Iran's IAEA envoy to new agency director-general Yukiya Amano in a meeting earlier this month -- as "inadequate."

"The proposal made by the IAEA in October 2009, which was supported by France, Russia, and the United States, continues to be on the table," International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor told Reuters in Vienna.

"The IAEA will continue to work in good faith as an impartial intermediary. We hope that agreement among the parties will be reached as quickly as possible [to] contribute to the establishment of confidence," she said.

Iran's failure to meet an effective U.S. deadline of December 31 to accept the October plan devised by then-IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei has prompted six world powers to start considering possible harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Asked for details of Iran's answer to Amano, Tudor said the IAEA was in no position to "discuss the views of the parties involved but is aware they are considering the best solution." She would not elaborate, citing political sensitivities.

Under the deal, Iran would transfer 70 percent of its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad and in return receive fuel for a medical research reactor.

The deal aimed to reduce Iran's LEU reserve below the quantity needed for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, if it were enriched to a high degree of purity.