Tehran: Iran`s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Tehran may agree to ship part of its stockpile of low enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment, the first official indication that Iran could at least partly sign onto a UN-drafted plan aimed at easing nuclear tensions.
The plan is seen by the international community as a way to delay Iran`s ability to build a nuclear weapon by getting a large part of its enriched uranium stock out of the country, preventing it from being reworked into a warhead. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran`s final decision over the plan "will be made in the next few days”.
Iran is weighing between the UN-drafted plan or buying its own enriched uranium abroad and keeping its own supply.
"To supply fuel, we may purchase it like in the past, or we may deliver part of (the low enriched uranium) fuel which we currently don`t need," Mottaki said.
In either case, Mottaki said Iran will continue to enrich its own uranium as well — a step opposed by the US and its allies over fears they could produce weapons-grade material.
"Iran`s legal peaceful nuclear activities will continue and this issue (Iran`s enrichment program) has nothing to do with supplying fuel for the Tehran reactor," he said.
So far, Tehran`s response has been unclear. Iran`s parliament speaker Ali Larijani earlier accused the West of trying to cheat his country with the proposal, raising doubts Tehran will approve the deal.
Iran`s top ally, Russia, nudged it to accept the plan.
"Iran has not yet officially confirmed its agreement. But we hope the necessary step will be taken and the agreement proves acceptable to the Iranian side as well," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian daily Vremya Novostei in an interview published on Monday.
Implementation of the proposal "would allow for a cooling of emotions and a realistic assessment of the situation," said Ryabkov, who has led Russian negotiators in talks on Iran`s nuclear program.
The plan was drafted by the International Atomic Energy Agency Wednesday after three days of talks between Iran and the US, Russia and France in Vienna. The three countries endorsed the deal on Friday, but Tehran has said it is still studying the proposal.
The UN plan envisages Iran sending up to 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched to a higher degree needed for use in a Tehran research reactor.
The deal is attractive to the US and its allies because it would mean Iran — for a period of time, anyway — would not have enough uranium stocks to build a bomb.
Uranium enriched to a low level is used to fuel a nuclear reactor for electricity, and a somewhat higher level is used in research reactors. When enriched to levels above 90 percent, the uranium can be used to build a bomb.
Around 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) is the commonly accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed to produce weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear warhead.
The Vienna plan would require Iran to send 2,420 pounds (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of the year.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner echoed the urgency felt by the West over reaching an agreement over Iran`s nuclear program.
He told the Daily Telegraph, in an interview published on Monday, that time was running out since Israel might well launch a pre-emptive strike.
"They (the Israelis) will not tolerate an Iranian bomb. We know that, all of us. So that is an additional risk and that is why we must decrease the tension and solve the problem," he said.
Mottaki on Monday replied that "the Zionist regime doesn`t dare to attack Iran because it is currently in its weakest position."