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AUSTRIA - Formal response to fuel swap offer

Published:Wednesday | January 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM

VIENNA (AP):

Iran has formally responded to a nuclear fuel swap proposal backed by the world's major powers with a counter-offer effectively rejecting their demand that Tehran export most of the material it would need to make a warhead, diplomats said yesterday.

For months, Iranian officials have used the media to criticise the plan and offer alternatives to one of its main conditions that the Islamic republic ship out most of its stock of enriched uranium and then wait for up to a year for its return in the form of fuel rods for its Tehran research reactor.

While critical of such statements, the United States and its allies said they did not constitute a formal response to the plan, first drawn up in early October in a landmark meeting in Geneva between Iran and the six world powers, and then refined later that month in Vienna talks among Iran, the US, Russia and France.

Draft proposal

The diplomats told The Associated Press that Iran first submitted such a written formal response to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) earlier this month in a January 6 meeting between Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief representative to the IAEA, and agency chief Yukiya Amano.

The IAEA-brokered talks in Vienna came up with a draft proposal that would take 70 per cent 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. Iran maintains its nuclear program is only for the peaceful purpose of generating energy.

The Geneva talks grouped the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany around the negotiating table with Iran, diplomats from two of those big powers said.