|President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not address whether Iran would ship out most of its stockpile in one batch.|
Tehran says it’s set to ship uranium for enrichment
Iran, West at odds over time frame, amount to be sent
TEHRAN - Iran said yesterday that it was ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment as requested by the United Nations.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the decision in an interview with state Iranian television.
He said Iran will have no problem giving the West its low-enriched uranium and taking it back several months later when it is enriched by 20 percent.
The decision could signal a major shift in the Iranian position on the issue.
Still, it was unclear how much of a concession Ahmadinejad’s comments represented, even though he appeared to be saying for the first time that Iran was willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to be returned in the form of fuel for its Tehran research reactor.
But his time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran’s enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor. If that difference cannot be bridged, it could allow Iranian officials to assert that the deal failed because of Western foot-dragging, despite their readiness to accept the proposed formula of shipping out the bulk of their enriched uranium and waiting for it to be converted and returned as fuel.
Ahmadinejad also did not address whether his country was ready to ship out most of its stockpile in one batch - another condition set by the six world powers endorsing the fuel swap.
If Iran were to agree to export most of its enriched uranium in one shipment, it would delay its ability to make a nuclear weapon by stripping it of the material it needs to make the fissile core of a warhead.
Specialists believe it would need at least a year to replenish its stockpile at its present rate of uranium enrichment.
For months, Iranian officials have used the media to criticize the plan and offer alternatives.
The West suspects that Iran’s nuclear program is geared toward acquiring atomic weapons. Iran denies the allegation and says the program is for the peaceful purpose of generating energy.
“If we allow them to take it, there is no problem. We sign a contract to give 3.5 percent enriched uranium and receive 20 percent enriched one after four or five months,’’ Ahmadinejad said.
He dismissed concerns by “colleagues’’ that the West would not return the uranium, saying Iran would respond to that by continuing to produce its own enriched uranium.
The plan for shipping the low-enriched uranium abroad for treatment comes from the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. It was first drawn up in early October in a landmark meeting in Geneva between Iran and the six world powers, and then refined that month in Vienna talks among Iran, the United States, Russia, and France.
The talks in Vienna came up with a draft proposal that would take 70 percent of Iran’s low-enriched uranium to reduce its stockpile of material that could be enriched to a higher level, and possibly be used to make nuclear weapons.
That uranium would be returned about a year later as refined fuel rods, which can power reactors but cannot be readily turned into weapons-grade material.
IAEA officials did not return after-hours calls seeking comment.
Gordon Duguid, spokesman for the US State Department, said of the proposal: “There has been some discussion about details, but the deal is the deal, and the Iranians need only to tell the IAEA they are prepared to take it, and we can move forward from there.’’