Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LEU Swap Dispute Preventing Iran Nuclear Deal

How to swap most of Iran’s current inventory of low-enriched uranium (LEU) with higher-grade fuel produced in the West and required to power Tehran nuclear reactor has become the center of dispute with Iran, preventing a nuclear deal and raising the prospect of a crisis in Iran's relations with the West.

The original IAEA proposal called for Iran to ship out some 90% of its known LEU to Russia and France. Although the proposal had received preliminary approval of Iran’s representative during the nuclear talks in Vienna, but the government of Iran, under pressure from influential conservative politicians, including the speaker of Majlis, refused to sign the agreement.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei suggested Turkey as the venue for exchange. Under the revised proposal, IAEA would take custody and control of Iranian LEU, ship it to Turkey and keep it there until Iran received the allotment of higher-grade (20%) uranium it was promised. The Iranian government at first seemed ready to sign the agreement. But the internal pressure again stopped the deal. Instead Iran has proposed a simultaneous swap on Iranian territory, with IAEA brining into Iran the higher-grade uranium before shipping out Iranian LEU.

ElBaradei said in Vienna that Iran’s latest proposal is a no go.

“I don’t think that is an option. The whole purpose of the deal is to defuse the crisis,” ElBaradei said. “IAEA will take custody and control of the material [LEU]. We’ve offered to have the material in Turkey, a country which has the trust of all the parties,” [AFP, 25 November].

ElBaradei maintains that in its current state, IAEA proposal leaves no room for further concern as it offers more than enough “built-in guarantees” to the Iranian government. He said that the West was ready to consider further amendments, anything except the prospect of leaving the LEU in Iran.

“I am open if they [Iranians] have any additional guarantees [to put in place] that do not involve keeping the material in Iran,” ElBaradei said.

The swap of Iran’s LEU in Turkey or inside Iran has become the major obstacle to a nuclear deal with Iran, raising the prospect of renewed tensions with the West.

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