Iran Calls for Enrichment Consortium on its Soil

A04179181.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian government proposed the creation of an international consortium to enrich uranium on its own soil as a way of defusing the tense standoff with the West over its nuclear program.

The proposal is part of a “new and comprehensive initiative” put forward by Iran ahead of a planned visit to Tehran by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, accompanied by senior officials from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

A date for the Tehran trip has yet to be agreed but Iranian sources suggested an official announcement could be made tomorrow. If it goes ahead, it will be the highest level international delegation to Iran for five years. The aim would be to put diplomatic weight behind a package of incentives for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment as the UN security council has proposed.

“The idea would be to make sure this package gets the attention it deserves, and perhaps has not been given by Tehran up to now,” a European diplomat said.

Iranian officials will want to discuss their own proposal, the existence of which was first announced by Rasoul Movahedian, Tehran’s ambassador in London, in a Guardian interview this month. It was delivered to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on May 13 and was made public just this morning.

It has emerged at the same time as an open letter to the Brown government from a former senior British diplomat, Sir John Thomson, urging it to consider the option of an international commercial partnership to enrich uranium in Iran, arguing current western policy “is not working”.

Billed as “a proposed package for constructive negotiations”, the Iranian proposal consists largely of suggestions for regional cooperation on energy, drug control, the environment and some distinctly new proposals on the nuclear issue.

Most importantly, it calls for “establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world – including in Iran”.

In the past, Iran has been offered similar partnerships outside its territory, but it has insisted that it has a sovereign right to build a comprehensive nuclear program, including a full uranium fuel cycle, on its own soil.

Iran has dismissed West’s calls for a suspension of its enrichment program as illegal and continues its nuclear work for peaceful energy production purposes.

Despite the publication of a US intelligence last November concluding that Iran stopped work on weaponization in 2003, the Bush White House, and vice-president Dick Cheney in particular, are reported to be contemplating military options before its term expires next January.

“To be blunt, western policy is not working,” Thomson, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN, said in a letter to the Brown government this week.

Asked about the Iranian proposal yesterday, Thomson said, “This clearly needs studying, we don’t want to miss another opportunity for a serious negotiation.”

He acknowledged there would be risks involved in establishing an international uranium consortium on Iranian soil, but argued they are easier to control than the dangers of the current diplomatic limbo.

“Our plan also provides that the multilateral partnership would take over all Iranian enrichment related facilities, not just the centrifuges,” Thomson said. “In addition there would be international personnel on duty at every stage of the enrichment operation – on each shift in the plant, in personnel management … in the guard rooms, etc.”

There would also be powerful disincentives against any Iranian attempt at taking over the consortium, he added, because “expropriation would be tantamount to telling the world Iran was about to make a weapon but did not have one yet – a particularly dangerous predicament if you have powerful enemies.”

The consortium idea is gaining ground in foreign policy circles in the US, but it is resisted by the US, French and British governments in particular, because they allege it would make it easier for Iran to run a parallel covert facility.

However, a British official said, “We would be ready to discuss it, as soon as Iran does what it knows it has to” – suspend enrichment.

The United States and its Western allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Iran denies the charges and insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

Iran is under three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions for turning down West’s illegitimate calls to give up its right of uranium enrichment, saying the demand is politically tainted and illogical.

Iran has so far ruled out halting or limiting its nuclear work in exchange for trade and other incentives, and says it will only negotiate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has repeatedly said that it considers its nuclear case closed after it answered the UN agency’s questions about the history of its nuclear program.

The US is at loggerheads with Iran over the independent and home-grown nature of Tehran’s nuclear technology, which gives the Islamic Republic the potential to turn into a world power and a role model for other third-world countries. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seemed to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Tehran says it wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has also insisted that it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhoveyn as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush finished a tour of the Middle East in winter to gain the consensus of his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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