Iran sidestepped a Friday deadline on a U.N.-drafted agreement that would ship much of the country’s uranium to Russia for enrichment, saying it would prefer instead to buy nuclear fuel from foreign suppliers for a reactor to make medical isotopes.
The response would come as a letdown to the United States, Russia and France, which earlier in the week had endorsed the U.N. plan aimed at allaying concerns about Iran’s potential to make a nuclear weapon.
While Iranian leaders did not reject the U.N. plan outright, state TV said Tehran was waiting for a response to its own counterproposal, the Associated Press reported.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is waiting for a constructive and confidence building response to the clear proposal of buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor,” state TV quoted an unnamed source close to Iran’s negotiating team as saying Friday.
Tehran has denied allegations that its nuclear program is geared toward making a weapon and says it is instead intended for civilian energy uses.
The draft U.N. agreement brokered in Vienna would have required Iran to send 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium — around 70 percent of its stockpile — to Russia in one batch by the end of the year, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Thursday, according to the AP.
After further enrichment in Russia, France would have converted the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in the Tehran reactor, he said.
About 2,205 pounds is the generally accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed to produce weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb.
If no breakthrough comes by the end of the year, Western powers have indicated they will seek sanctions targeting its oil sector. But Russia and China, which both have veto power at the U.N. Security Council, oppose energy sanctions, saying they would be counter-productive and drive Iran into a corner, Reuters reported.
The U.N. Security Council has already approved three sets of sanctions against Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment.
Meanwhile on Sunday, four senior International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are going to a uranium enrichment site near Qom that Iran revealed last month after three years of secrecy, according to Reuters. Iran says the facility, buried in a mountain near a military compound, will produce only low-enriched fuel for electricity.