US, France, Russia respond to Iran fuel deal: IAEA

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The US, France and Russia have formally replied to Iran's proposals for a nuclear fuel swap, just hours before world powers were set to slap new sanctions on Tehran over its atomic programme, the UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday.

"IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano today informed the board of governors that he had received letters from the governments of France, the Russian Federation and the United States concerning the provision of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

The letters were in response to Iran's proposal on May 24 for an arrangement with Brazil and Turkey regarding the supply of fuel for a research reactor that makes radioisotopes for medical purposes.

"Attached to each of the letters was an identical paper entitled Concerns about the Joint Declaration Conveyed by Iran to the IAEA'," the UN watchdog said.

"The letters and the paper have been conveyed to the government of Iran through Iran's resident representative to the IAEA."

Amano said: "I will continue to use my good offices to follow up on this new development with the concerned governments".

A diplomat close to the IAEA, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Amano met with the envoys of the three countries on the sidelines of the agency's week-long board meeting here, where Washington, Paris and Moscow formally handed over their responses.

The move comes just hours ahead of a key vote by the UN Security Council in New York which was expected to slap a fourth set of sanctions on the Islamic republic over its contested nuclear programme.

The US, Franca and Russia -- known as the so-called Vienna group -- had originally proposed last October that they take most of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and turn it into the much-needed fuel for the research reactor.

But Iran refused to take up the offer and has drawn up an alternative deal with Brazil and Turkey instead.

The diplomats said they had not yet seen the contents of the letter.

But the West has cold-shouldered Iran's proposal, saying it did not go far enough to allay fears that Tehran is using its contested nuclear drive as a mask for a covert atomic weapons programme.

© 2010 AFP

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