Iran has expressed its willingness to swap its low enriched uranium stocks with nuclear fuel in Turkey as part of a confidence building deal with global powers.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state television that Tehran “does not have a problem with Turkish soil” as the location for the exchange. “Exchange is acceptable,” he said. “They [West] have to do the trust-building, and then it is pursuable”. “The ball is in their own court, they should answer us,” he said. “Threat and sanctions are useless.”
Mr. Mottaki said Iran would prefer to produce the fuel on its own, but was still ready for talks with the West.
Mr. Mottaki’s statement is a significant departure from the earlier position adopted by Iran, where it had insisted that the swap should take place on its territory alone.
Following intensive talks in October, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), among representatives of Iran, United States, Russia and France, the former IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, had proposed a possible deal for the supply of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, engaged in producing medical isotopes. The draft envisaged the transfer of the bulk of Iranian stocks of low enriched uranium, purified to a 3-5 per cent level for a higher 19-20 per cent refinement in Russia. Russia would then send the material to France for fabrication into nuclear fuel rods, unfit for military applications, for use in the Tehran reactor.
In response, the Iranians have voiced changes, which they say are necessary to ensure reliable fuel supply for the Tehran reactor.
Contrary to Mr. ElBaradei’s proposal, Iran has been unwilling to ship the bulk of its supplies abroad in one go. Besides, it has called for a simultaneous swap of limited quantities of its domestically produced uranium with fuel, with the exchange taking place on its own soil.
During the course of the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on December 12, Mr. Mottaki had proposed that Tehran was ready for an equivalent exchange involving 400 kg of domestically produced uranium for fuel at Kish island, which is part of Iran.
Turkey has welcomed Mr. Mottaki’s proposal. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday said Turkey would persist with its efforts to peacefully resolve the dispute over Iran’s atomic programme.
“We are not pessimistic. We will do our best [for a peaceful solution]. We are pleased with Iran’s statement,” said Mr. Davutoglu.
Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the year-end deadline on Iran imposed by the West to accept the IAEA proposal or face possible sanctions. “We told you that we are not afraid of sanctions against us, and we are not intimidated,” he said, in an apparent address to the West. “If Iran wanted to make a bomb, we would be brave enough to tell you.”