Iran has opened its doors to China as a possible supplier of enriched uranium fuel for its reactor in Tehran amid friction with France which has so far been assigned to play a major role in a possible deal between Iran and the global powers.

“China is an important country and capable of producing nuclear fuel. Thus if it is ready to take part in this regard and supply fuel, Iran would welcome its participation,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday at a press conference in Tehran.

Mr. Mottaki’s remarks coincide with growing tensions between Iran and France, over Tehran’s nuclear programme. In remarks published on Monday in the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear sites if the West does not work out a deal with Tehran on uranium enrichment. “They [the Israelis] will not tolerate an Iranian bomb,” he said.

Iran’s talks in Vienna last week with the United States, Russia, France and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nearly broke down over Iran’s objections to France’s direct participation in an arrangement where Tehran would send the bulk of its existing stocks of low enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment.

Analysts say a compromise was finally floated that Iran would principally work with Russia. Moscow, in turn, would subcontract to France, enriched uranium purified to 19-20 per cent level, for conversion into metal fuel assemblies, for use in a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes.

Mr. Mottaki also signalled that Iran was considering transferring some of its nuclear material abroad for further enrichment, but made it clear that a final decision was pending. He told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that Iran could either “buy” the material or transfer part of its domestic stocks for further reprocessing abroad. “Iran’s decision on the provision of necessary fuel for the Tehran reactor will be announced in the next few days,” he said. Last week, head of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei had handed over a draft agreement to all the participants in the Vienna talks, with the expectation that all parties would approve the proposals by Friday.

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