US, France, Russia unhappy with Iran fuel deal proposal

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The United States, France and Russia seemed to reject Wednesday Iran's proposals for a nuclear fuel swap, saying it did not build enough confidence about the peaceful nature of Tehran's atomic programme.

The three powers -- known as the Vienna group -- handed their views on the deal here to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano just hours before world powers were set to slap new sanctions on Iran.

The IAEA confirmed receipt of the three countries' responses but did not reveal the content of their letters.

Nevertheless, comments by Washington's envoy to the IAEA's closed-door session more or less set out the countries' concerns about the deal concluded with Brazil and Turkey.

Diplomats attending the meeting said France and Russia had expressed similar worries.

Iran's proposed arrangement for the supply of fuel for a research reactor in Tehran "provides no alternative means of ensuring that the confidence-building element of the arrangement would be maintained," US ambassador Glyn Davies told the IAEA's 35-member board of governors.

"It does not address the underlying issue of Iran's non-compliance with its non-proliferation obligations," Davies complained.

"It also does not take into account Iran's production or retention of nearly 20 percent enriched uranium and it asserts a right for Iran to engage in enrichment activities."

It did not set a deadline for removal of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for further processing into the fuel rods needed for the reactor.

"Further, the declaration sets an unrealistic timeline for delivery of the fuel assemblies, insisting on full delivery within one year when such a result is clearly not within the technical capability of any state," Davies said.

Finally, it does not account for Iran's continued accumulation of LEU since the IAEA first proposed a fuel swap last October, making the proportion it would retain much larger.

Under Iran's proposal, a total 1,200 kilogrammes (2,640 pounds) of LEU would be shipped out for treatment, around half of the Islamic republic's current stockpile of nuclear material.

"That would still leave Iran with substantial stocks, decreasing the confidence-building value of the original proposal," Davies said.

The US, France and Russia had originally proposed taking most of Iran's stockpile of LEU and turning it into the much-needed fuel for the research reactor.

Iran refused to take up the offer, stalling for nearly eight months, during which it pressed ahead with enrichment, boosting its stockpile to more than 2,400 kilogrammes.

On May 17, Iran came up with an alternative fuel supply arrangement with Brazil and Turkey.

Iran officially informed the UN watchdog of that deal on May 24, when the agency immediately forwarded it to Washington, Paris and Moscow for their opinions.

Their responses "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".

The development came 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, which the West in particular fears is intended to produce atomic weaponry.

Tehran denies the charges, saying its programme is purely for civilian purposes.

© 2010 AFP

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