Nuclear Deal With Iran May Be Close
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The U.S. Russia, France and Iran have agreed on a draft proposal aimed at easing concerns over Iran's nuclear program. The Iranian delegate says his government still needs to thoroughly study the deal. The idea is for Iran to export much of its nuclear fuel.
From Vienna, NPR's Eric Westervelt has details.
ERIC WESTERVELT: After the talks, International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei gave very few details of the draft document. But an official confirms it calls for sending most of Iran's declared stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia and then to France. There it would be further enriched and converted into fuel rods and returned to Tehran for a reactor used for medical research and cancer care. ElBaradei said he hoped all the capitals involved: Tehran, Washington, Paris, and Moscow would approve the agreement by Friday.
Dr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Director, International Atomic Energy Agency): I will have to wait until Friday. I am optimistic. The spirit here was very constructive and forward-looking.
WESTERVELT: A central concern would be the timing of the shipments, an issue ElBaradei and diplomats declined to address today. The West wants Iran to send its uranium stockpile abroad at one time, not in phases. That way, uranium that Iran might further process for nuclear bomb would be out of Iran for a year or more. If it's sent out in phases, experts believe, Iran could replace it more quickly. Paul Pillar, a former senior U.S. intelligence officer, now teaches at Georgetown University.
Professor PAUL PILLAR (Georgetown University): Each of the parties has their concern about the amount of time it will take for Iran to get the fissile material necessary to construct a nuclear weapon, should they decide to do so. So the schedule of the implementation of this agreement is going to be very important.
WESTERVELT: The IAEA's ElBaradei, today, urged all involved to look at the big picture. If the agreement works, he said, it might open the way for normalization of relations between Iran and the international community.
Dr. ELBARADEI: Everybody is aware that that transaction using Iran low-enriched uranium to be manufactured into fuel is a very important confidence-building measure that can defuse a crisis that has been going on for a number of years and open space for negotiation.
WESTERVELT: But it's not clear how much space was open during these meetings. Iran had already agreed to this proposal in principle three weeks ago at a meeting in Geneva. It appears that the Iranian delegation in Vienna simply didn't have the political clout to sign off on a final deal. One analyst, today, said the Iranians never stop bargaining and you're seeing some of that here. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the head of the Iranian delegation here, sounded optimistic Iran would eventually sign off on the deal. But he insisted these meetings were not connected to the larger talks with six world powers in Geneva. A second round of those talks could take place as early as next week. Soltanieh said while Iran can process its own uranium for the medical reactor, the country this time will work through the IAEA.
Mr. ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH (Lead Delegate, Iran): Of course, you are well aware that we are master of enrichment technology. We can produce the fuel for ourselves with this reactor for 20 percent enrichment. But we have decided that we will receive the fuel from the potential suppliers which are willing to do so instead of that.
WESTERVELT: Even if implemented, the deal hardly ends the larger dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Some Western powers want a full freeze of Iran's uranium enrichment program. There's also concern Iran hasn't disclosed all of its uranium stockpile. Iran's foreign minister this week again said Iran will never abandon what he called the country's legal and obvious right to nuclear technology.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.