Iran ready for immediate nuclear fuel talks
Iran said on Friday it was ready for immediate talks with the United States, Russia and France over an exchange of nuclear fuel and added that it was also against stockpiling higher enriched uranium.
The comments by the Islamic republic's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi came as Washington decided to fan out across Asia, Middle East and the United Arab Emirates asking its partners to levy tighter sanctions against Tehran.
"We are ready even in the next few days to start negotiations with the other parties" over the fuel swap, Salehi was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.
He said talks on this issue with the so-called Vienna group comprising the United States, Russia and France will be held in Vienna, where the UN atomic watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is based.
The Vienna group has raised questions about a proposal forwarded by Iran, Brazil and Turkey concerning a fuel swap.
The May 17 proposal, known as the Tehran Declaration, stipulates that Tehran send 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey in return for 20 percent high-enriched uranium to be supplied at a later date.
The 20 percent enriched uranium, when converted into fuel plates, will be used as fuel for a Tehran-based research reactor.
Salehi said Iran has already responded to the questions raised by the Vienna group, but that any other "technical" queries can be answered during another meeting.
The Tehran Declaration was Iran's counter-proposal to an earlier plan drafted by the IAEA for a fuel swap deal.
After that plan hit deadlock, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered Salehi to produce 20 percent enriched uranium inside the country, in defiance of world powers which want Tehran to stop the sensitive process.
Enriching uranium is at the heart of controversy over Iran's nuclear programme because the material can be used to power nuclear reactors as well as to make atom bombs.
Experts say that by enriching uranium to 20 percent, Iran has theoretically come closer to enriching it to the 90 percent purity required for making nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies that its uranium enrichment programme has any military goals. But the world powers which dismiss Tehran's arguments have gone ahead and levied new sanctions against Iran.
On Friday, Salehi again attempted to clarify Iran's position, saying that it was against stockpiling the 20 percent enriched uranium.
"We need 20 percent fuel for the Tehran research reactor at the moment," Salehi said. "We have said before that we are producing 20 percent only for our needs. We do not want to stockpile 20 percent fuel."
He and other Iranian officials have previously said that if Iran gets the fuel required for the Tehran reactor which makes medical isotopes, it would stopping producing the high-enriched material.
Iran's arch-foe the United States, however, announced on Thursday that top officials will visit China, the United Arab Emirates and other key countries in support of tighter sanctions against Tehran.
"China is of concern to us in this regard," Robert Einhorn, the US State Department's special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"We need for them to enforce the Security Council resolutions conscientiously and we also need for them not to 'backfill' when responsible countries have distanced themselves from Iran," he said.
China, which has emerged as Iran's largest trading partner in recent years, backed the latest UN sanctions, but has consistently insisted on a diplomatic solution to the nuclear controversy.
On Friday, Beijing opposed the recent unilateral sanctions imposed by the European Union targeting Iran's vital energy sector.
"China disapproves of the unilateral sanctions put in place by the EU against Iran," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.
"We hope the relevant parties will adhere to diplomatic means on the issue, and properly resolve the issue through talks and negotiation."
© 2010 AFP