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Interview with Iran’s envoy to the IAEA

Iran, on Monday, informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would pursue improved enrichment of uranium at one of its nuclear plants producing medical isotopes.

Press TV reports:

“Today we handed over the letter,” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Press TV.

He said Iran has asked the UN nuclear agency to dispatch its inspectors to the country to oversee the process of the 20 percent enrichment work.

…Soltanieh said Iran will use its nuclear stockpile to enrich uranium to up to 20 percent to supply the Tehran research reactor which produces medical isotopes.

Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East, has written the following on his blog about the issue at hand:

The compromise Iran offered is that they would keep sending abroad a small portion of their low enriched uranium for another country to enrich to 19.75% for the medical reactor, on a rolling basis. Salehi is saying that Ahmadinejad’s announcement was meant primarily to force acceptance of this alternative. At the same time, on Saturday Ahmadinejad seemed to say that he would accept the deal offered by the US in October. US officials were understandably skeptical about this alleged softening of Tehran’s position, and Salehi on Monday seemed to suggest that Iran was making a push for the hard liners’ compromise.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke as though Iran’s announcement that it was going to try to make its own medical isotopes with low enriched uranium was tantamount to a weapons program. Gates said that if Iran did seem to be close to getting a nuclear warhead, it would provoke a nuclear arms race in the region. But it seems obvious that it is Israel’s stockpile of some 200 nuclear weapons that is driving the already-existing nuclear arms race in the region.

The US will probably seek further sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council, this time on its banking sector. But there is a substantial possibility that China may protect Iran by vetoing any such new program of sanctions.

The following is Press TV’s exclusive interview with Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, on February 8 (this is an excerpt, read the full interview here):

Press TV: Iran’s formal announcement of enriching 20-percent uranium; great news for Iran. Can you give us more details?

Dr. Soltanieh: Yes, upon instruction of my government today, officially, I reflected to the agency the intention of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to start its nuclear enrichment activities of uranium up to 20%, I repeat up to 20%, in order to produce the required fuel for Tehran research reactor. This has been already officially delivered about 12 o’clock today Vienna time to the agency and then also in the evening. We received the acknowledgment of the letter and also in the letter I have invited the agency inspectors to be present as of tomorrow during this whole process, to show utmost transparency in our cooperation with the IAEA; then also in the acknowledgement letter this evening the agency informed us that the inspectors will be present and supervising the whole activity.

Press TV: If this capability was within Iran’s ability, why did it leave the option open for the West?

Dr. Soltanieh: Well, in fact, as you correctly said, we have in fact this capability, technological capability, because this is a fact that Iran has mastered the enriching technology but the government of Islamic Republic of Iran decided to open a window of opportunity for the others in order to enter into a new avenue, rather than confrontation, to come to cooperation, and while we receive the fuel for our research reactor within the framework of the IAEA the technical cooperation among member states will be enhanced.

Unfortunately, we waited so long, roughly about nine months, since I sent a letter to former [IAEA] director general, asking the agency to facilitate for this exchange of the fuel and receiving of the fuel. In fact, by coincidence, I am the same one that over 20 years ago, as ambassador to the IAEA at that time, wrote a letter to Director General Hans Blix, requesting the fuel for Tehran reactor and we finally had an agreement through the IAEA by Argentina we got the fuel and we paid for it. This time unfortunately, the potential suppliers put a condition. It means not only they wanted to receive the money but they wanted to receive the material which we have produced in Natanz. Now, again this was a test of the political will of parties concerned. During the negotiation, which was held 19th to 21st of October, and I had the honor to be in charge of the delegation and the negotiator, we in fact tried to show utmost flexibility. Therefore, we accepted and agreed to send the required material for the fuel outside. The only thing is, because of the past confidence deficit, we insisted on the modality which will give the guarantee that we will receive the fuel at the end of the day, and this was the best logical, technically-sound proposal that Iran made during that negotiation.

I have to remind you that after I wrote a letter to the director general and asked him to send to potential suppliers, the director general at the time Mr. Baradei only sent the letter of course to Russia and the US and they gave us a non-paper. In that non-paper, they gave this proposal that they wanted 1,200 kilograms to be sent to Russia for further enrichment and then further on, of course, France joined it in order to do fuel fabrication. That was, in fact the proposal of those countries. But, by mistake, during the last four months, in the media you have noticed that they are explaining that that was the Geneva proposal and those three countries accepted and Iran has not accepted that proposal. This is absolutely wrong, because that was the proposal of those three countries in fact. Therefore there was no surprise that they agreed with their own proposal. But our proposal was also on the table, which was very important as I explained to you: simultaneous exchange of LEU (low-enriched uranium) produced in Iran with the fuel which will be going to be produced outside. Simultaneous exchanges swap in Iran. It is that we are ready to show compromise to send the material out although we were not obliged to do so and get the fuel. Therefore the common denominator between these two proposals was that the material, the required material, the equivalent material, could be sent out. They should have welcomed this opportunity, but for the last eight months [or] more roughly close to nine months we have been desperately waiting and we tried not to in fact further elaborate for the media. We tried to let the diplomacy work. But, unfortunately, we have been disappointed that until now today there was no response to our proposal.

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