Ahmadinejad says Iran can agree to ship its uranium for futher enrichment outside

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced in an interview with state Iranian television that Iran is ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment.

But the terms he said Iran could accept are not exactly identical with the terms being offered by major powers who want Iran to stop enriching its own uranium in Iran.

The Associated Press’ George Jahn reported from Vienna that “The decision is a major shift in the Iranian position on the issue”, adding that Ahmadinejad said Iran will have ‘no problem’ giving the West its low-enriched uranium and taking it back several months later when it is enriched by 20 percent … ‘If we allow them to take it, there is no problem. We sign a contract to give 3.5 percent enriched uranium and receive 20 percent enriched one after four or five months’, Ahmadinejad said”.

The AP report observed that Ahmadinejad “appeared to be saying for the first time that Iran was willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to be returned in the form of fuel for its Tehran research reactor. But his time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran’s enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor … Ahmadinejad also did not address whether his country was ready to ship out most of its stockpile in one batch — another condition set by the six world powers endorsing the fuel swap. If Iran were to agree to export most of its enriched uranium in one shipment, it would delay its ability to make a nuclear weapon by stripping it of the material it needs to make the fissile core of a warhead. Experts believe it would need at least a year to replenish its stockpile at its present rate of uranium enrichment”.

However, AP noted that Ahmadinejad “dismissed concerns by what he called ‘colleagues’ that the West would not return the uranium, saying Iran would respond to that by continuing to produce its own enriched uranium. The plan for shipping the low enriched uranium abroad for treatment comes from the International Atomic Agency. It was 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 U.S., Russia and France. The talks in Vienna came up with a draft proposal that would take 70 percent 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”.

The AP added that “In Tuesday’s interview, Ahmadinejad repeated his wish to see the West build nuclear power plants in his country. ‘They want to cooperate? OK, we cooperate. We do not have any problem. Let them build 20 nuclear power plants. Is there a problem? Russia, France and the U.S., come and build’. Iran is building with Russia’s help its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. The plant is scheduled to be inaugurated later this year”. This AP report is published here.

Meanwhile, two days earlier Iran announced that it is making further preparations to deal with the possibility of tightened sanctions. The official Iranian news agency IRNA reported that “Iran plans to build seven new oil and gas refineries in a bid to diminish its vulnerability to sanctions from foreign refineries”. An enormous Iranian refinery was destroyed almost 30 years ago, at the start of the Iran-Iraq war, which saw massive destruction of both countries’ infrastructure. The Iranian refining capability has never been rebuilt. Iran now relies on exporting its oil for refinement abroad — then re-importing its own oil after paying for the increased value. New sanctions being considered against Iran by the United States plan to target this dependence.

Tony Karon on Friday 5 Feb about Tues 2 Feb offer

Ahmadinejad had initially crowed over the deal brokered last October, but was forced to backpedal by a firestorm of criticism of the agreement from Iran’s entire, fractious political spectrum. Tehran’s demand for changes was rejected by the U.S. and its allies, who insisted that the package could not be renegotiated – and with Iran declining to accept its terms, Western powers began to press for new sanctions. Some of Iran’s key trade partners, however, demurred, a

Reports have suggested that Ahmadinejad’s latest statements may reflect progress in efforts to broker a plan for Japan to act as the guarantor that Iran would receive the processed reactor fuel – on a four- to five-month time frame, according to Ahmadinejad’s statement – in exchange for the uranium it ships out into Japanese custody. (Ahmadinejad’s new time frame appears to be a compromise between the original proposal, which envisaged a one-year lag between Iran exporting its uranium and receiving fuel rods, and Iran’s demand for a simultaneous exchange on its territory. But until Iran formally delivers a new proposal to the IAEA, the details of any new proposals will remain a matter of speculation.)

But there could be a simpler explanation for Ahmadinejad’s apparent desire to revive the reactor-fuel deal: the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes, will run out of fuel this year, and it was Iran’s attempts to buy new fuel that created the opening for the deal involving Iran sending its uranium abroad for reprocessing. Although Ahmadinejad likes to boast that if Iran can’t acquire such fuel abroad, it will create it at home, that would take months or years of work

Ahmadinejad also has to deal with suspicions among Iran’s leaders that the deal was a trick that would deprive Iran of most of its hard-won uranium stockpile. That, of course, is a stated goal of the Western powers in pursuing the deal, because it would remove from Iran three-quarters of a stockpile that could, hypothetically, be reprocessed to create materiel for a single nuclear bomb. Replenishing that amount, at current rates of output, would take Iran the best part of a year, during which time Western powers hope to persuade Iran to end uranium enrichment altogether. But Iran has no intention of ending enrichment: the nuclear program is strongly backed by all major political factions in Tehran, and most of the international community accepts Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes

White house spokesman Bill Burton on 3 Feb

Iranian President Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Iran was in fact ready to go ahead with a deal that it had reached earlier but yet reneged on to allow its nuclear fuel to be processed abroad. Does the President see that as a serious offer or overture, and would the U.S. take advantage of that in some way? Or do they see it as being a way of diverting attention or diverting efforts towards a new round of sanctions?

MR. BURTON: Well, some of these reports have been pretty fragmentary in the sense that we haven’t seen the whole transcript and everything that he has said. But if those comments indicate some sort of change in position for Iran, then President Ahmadinejad should let the IAEA know.
Reading through some of the English language Iranian press day after reports on Ahmadinejad’s interview, a couple items stand out:
This piece that shows that Ahmadinejad’s interview was advertised as a major live address to the nation that was given some pre-billing. Seems unlikely it would have been set up that way without the Supreme Leader’s blessing, a Reuters analysis posits. (An Iran expert also suggested that Iran’s rocket launch today is the sort of “show of strength” that might happen before Iran would offer a deal, to try to project strength so they don’t look weak.)
Some interesting discussion here by Iran’s atomic energy chief Salehi about conversations Iran having on Tehran Research Reactor with various countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said today Iranians had spoken in Davos last weekend with French and Brazilian officials about the TRR deal and had some things clarified. Salehi suggests there have also been discussions with a nation in Asia, by which China’s Xinhua news agency seemed to think he meant Japan (ahem).
Key western power were quite united in their messaging last night and today that if Iran has a serious offer they should contact the IAEA.