Iran offers to make France nuclear middle-man

3rd October 2006, Comments 0 comments

TEHRAN, Oct 3, 2006 (AFP) - Iran on Tuesday suggested France should lead a consortium to produce enriched uranium on Iranian soil, in a new attempt to ward off the threat of sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.

TEHRAN, Oct 3, 2006 (AFP) - Iran on Tuesday suggested France should lead a consortium to produce enriched uranium on Iranian soil, in a new attempt to ward off the threat of sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has been leading talks aimed at persuading Iran to suspend the sensitive nuclear activity, described such French monitoring as "interesting" but in need of further examination.

The proposal comes after a new warning from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Iran would automatically be hauled before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions if it does not suspend enrichment.

"The best solution to dispel the worries about Iran's nuclear activities is not to demand a suspension" of enrichment, the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, Mohammad Saeedi, told AFP.

"We have an idea that technically and legally is the best solution.

"It is that France creates a consortium with Eurodif and Areva to carry out enrichment in Iran and thus they can closely monitor our nuclear programme," he added, referring to France's enrichment specialist and its parent company.

Iran's use of uranium enrichment, a process used to create the fuel for a nuclear power station but which can also provide the explosive core of a nuclear bomb, lies at the centre of the standoff.

Tehran has so far refused to comply with Western demands to suspend uranium enrichment as proof it is not seeking nuclear weapons, despite ongoing talks with the European Union aimed at making it halt the practice.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful energy needs, vehemently rejecting US allegations it is seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.

"The Iranian proposal for French monitoring of uranium is interesting," Solana told reporters in Finland, adding the suggestion "needs analysis".

"We have discussed since the very beginning the possibility of a control," he said. "We discussed it lightly before, it may be an idea that can be discussed now more in detail."

The French foreign ministry however reacted cooly, describing the proposal as "unexpected" and saying it was still awaiting a response from Iran in its talks with Solana on whether to suspend enrichment.

Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, spoke on the telephone Monday and resolved to make further contact in the next days. The conversation was the first contact between the two men since they held talks in Berlin last week.

The intense activity on both sides came as the head of Russia's security council Igor Ivanov arrived in Tehran and went into talks with Larijani, Iranian media said.

Russia has supported calls for Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment, but has been reluctant to endorse sanctions and wants to continue work on building a nuclear power station at Bushehr, in southern Iran.

In emphasising foreign involvement, Saeedi's proposal resembles a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the United Nations in September 2005 saying foreign countries could help Iran to enrich uranium on its soil.

The reaction at the time was sceptical.

Speaking on her way to a tour of the Middle East expected to be dominated by the Iran crisis, Rice reaffirmed that Iran would face Security Council sanctions if it did not suspend.

"We did have a discussion on the importance of remaining firm on (UN) Resolution 1696 which means that if the Iranians don't suspend, then we go to the Security Council for sanctions," she said.

A senior US official said meanwhile the United States had made "good progress" in gaining allies' approval for a list of sanctions to be imposed on Iran if it fails to freeze enrichment, without specifying the nature of the penalties.

"I don't think it would be particularly difficult, given the progress they've made, to pull all this together" into a resolution against Iran, said the official, who declined to be named.

Iran missed a deadline of August 31 to suspend uranium enrichment but according to diplomats world powers have now agreed a new deadline of early  this month.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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