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In Tehran, Iranian leaders apparently have rejected a nuclear deal with the U.S., Russia and France, a deal that Iran initially agreed to just a week ago. The deal called for Iran to send most of its low enriched uranium out of the country for processing into reactor fuel. Now, Iran says, it wants another arrangement. Even as Irans leaders insist that they are not reneging on the deal. The United States and Europe are not so sure.
NPRs Mike Shuster has this.
MIKE SHUSTER: It was a surprise when Iran accepted the deal initially. Proposed by the Obama administration, the scheme would have Iran ship more than a ton of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France that would amount to about 80 percent of the low-enriched uranium Iran has produced - a stockpile that Iran could use if it decided to to make enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. In the deal, Russia and France would enrich and process that uranium further and it would be returned to Iran for use in a research reactor that manufactures radioisotopes for medical use.
Although the deal wouldnt prohibit Iran from making more low-enriched uranium, it would certainly take more time, probably a year for Iran to replenish its stockpile, thus putting off for some time this particular route to nuclear weapons. Just yesterday, Irans President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seemed to praise the deal. Ahmadinejad was speaking in the city of Mashhad in northeast Iran.
President MAHMUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Foreign language spoken)
SHUSTER: These nations were telling us to close everything down before, Ahmadinejad said. Now, they have expressed willingness to cooperate over fuel supply, technological improvement, building power plants and nuclear reactors. From a confrontational position, he added, they have reached a cooperation position. At the same time, Iran has delayed providing a clear response to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yesterday, when an answer did come from Tehran, it was verbal, not written down on paper.
Apparently, Iran wants to change the provisions of the deal. It wants Russia and France to provide new reactor fuel first. Only then would Iran ship out its low-enriched uranium in small batches, rather than all at once, which was a key provision of the original agreement. Irans representative at the IAEAs headquarters in Vienna, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, described these as purely technical details.
Mr. ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH (Iran Representative, IAEAs Headquarters, Vienna): (Foreign language spoken)
SHUSTER: Our technical and economic concerns regarding the way the fuel will be provided for Tehrans research reactor must be taken into account, Soltanieh said. I have to make sure that such concerns are addressed. The U.S., the European Union and Russia are all part of this deal. The Europeans have reacted with the most exasperation. Some diplomats have described this as the same old tricks.
The French Foreign Ministry called on Iran to provide a formal, positive response without delay. The U.S. is reacting calmly. Today, during a visit to Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned patience on CNN.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): Im going to let this process play out, but clearly we are, you know, working to determine what exactly they are willing to do, whether this was an initial response that is an end response, or whether its the beginning of getting to where we expect them to end up.
SHUSTER: The director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is in the middle of the negotiations. He made a private visit to Washington a few days ago. Earlier this month, he was in Tehran and met with Ahmadinejad. ElBaradei came away convinced that at least some in the Iranian leadership want to see improvement in relations with the U.S. and Europe. ElBaradei was speaking with a French newsweekly LExpress which posted its interview with him in English on its Web site.
Mr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Director, IAEA): They want to engage. They want to regulate the entire relationship, particularly with the U.S. He is not just (unintelligible) one particular piece of the puzzle.
SHUSTER: Late today, Irans official news agency reported that Iran is ready for more talks on the issue.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.