Iran outlined to the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Monday a deal to give up some of its enriched uranium, calling it major progress towards resolving a standoff with world powers now pursuing tougher sanctions against Tehran.
A letter signed by Iranian nuclear programme chief Ali Akbar Salehi was handed over to International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano at a 45-minute meeting in Vienna, an Iranian diplomat told reporters. He gave no details.
Iran’s Arabic-language al-Alam state television quoted Salehi’s letter as saying the deal was “a major step forward” towards defusing tensions over its nuclear energy programme. There was no immediate IAEA comment.
The deal to swap low-enriched uranium for fuel to run an Iranian medical research reactor, aimed at allaying fears Iran is trying to amass enough fissile material for nuclear weapons, was agreed last week by Tehran with Turkey and Brazil.
Under the plan, Iran would transfer 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) — enough for an atom bomb if enriched to high purity — to Turkey in return for special fuel rods to replenish the stocks of its medical isotope reactor.
But world powers voiced doubt about the value of this offer — based on a seven-month-old, IAEA-backed proposal — since Iran’s LEU stockpile has grown significantly since then, meaning it could still be left with enough for a nuclear warhead.
Iran has also started refining uranium to a higher level.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tehran had accepted the nuclear fuel swap to show good faith in efforts to defuse tensions over its atomic ambitions, which he reiterated were solely peaceful.
“Iran accepted the conditions in order to create an atmosphere based on trust and cooperation,” Mehmanparast told a news conference during a visit to Istanbul.
He said Tehran was awaiting approval from the Vienna group of states expected to supply Iran with the 20 percent enriched uranium in return for its 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, to be sent to Turkey for safekeeping until a swap could take place.
“We will reach an agreement with the group after the discussion on all technical and official details are complete. A possible agreement with the Vienna group … will provide a peaceful and constructive solution for the whole world.”
The original deal brokered between Iran, the United States, France and Russia in October foundered in disputes over detail.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he hoped the new proposal could open the way to a negotiated settlement.
But the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, after months of negotiations, brushed off Iran’s move, agreeing a draft resolution on a new set of sanctions against Iran that Washington handed to the Security Council last week.
(Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy in Tehran; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Matthew Jones)