MOSCOW – Iran has proposed setting up a nuclear fuel production facility within its borders with international help, the Iranian Embassy said Tuesday, as diplomats reported that the U.N. Security Council was "very close" to an agreement on how to confront Tehran's suspect program.
The new Iranian proposal is an alternative to Russia's offer to host Iran's nuclear fuel production as a way to ease concerns that enrichment conducted in Iran could be used to develop weapons. Iran maintains its atomic program is for generating electricity.
Russia said its enrichment offer was contingent on Iran resuming a moratorium on domestic enrichment, but the Iranians rejected that link.
"In terms of satisfying its needs, Tehran cannot remain dependent on international suppliers," the Iranian government said in the statement.
"Iran would welcome the creation of an international nuclear fuel center on its territory with the participation of other countries and in the framework of an international consortium."
It was not clear whether the offer differed from one that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made before the U.N. General Assembly last September. At that time, he offered foreign countries and companies a role in uranium enrichment inside Iran.
Iran also reiterated that Security Council intervention in the dispute would "escalate tensions, entailing negative consequences that would be of benefit to no party."
Nonetheless, the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council said Tuesday they were nearing a deal on a proposed statement addressing Iran. Russia and China have so far opposed a proposal from Britain, France and the United States that would demand Iran comply with demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.
"We have reached agreement on the bulk of the text, so there was movement on all sides, and now we need to see whether we can cross this last bridge but we're very close," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said after the permanent five held three meetings Tuesday.
Britain and France circulated the text of a proposed statement later Tuesday to the rest of the 15-nation Security Council. Diplomats said that was a sign that divisions with China and Russia had narrowed after three meetings in eight hours, though they said differences remained.
The five permanent members of the council have struggled for three weeks to come up with a written rebuke that would urge Iran to comply with demands from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that it suspend uranium enrichment.
Several diplomats said the five nations want a deal before a meeting of their foreign ministers in Berlin on Thursday. Germany, which has also been involved in negotiations over Iran, will also be there.
The new text makes a significant concession to Russia and China. It removes language labelling proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a "threat to international peace and security."
That is significant because the Security Council's chief responsibility is addressing such threats.
Including that language could be seen as an acknowledgment that the council must play a key role in confronting Iran. And that, Russia and China fear, could lead the West to push for stronger council action, possibly including sanctions, down the road.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday his nation's offer to host Iranian enrichment remains on the table, but "Iran should say unambiguously whether it is planning to accept or reject the offer in order to allay the international community's concerns," the Interfax news agency reported.
Britain, France and Germany broke off more than two years of talks with Iran in January, saying there was no point in continuing to negotiate after Tehran said it would restart enrichment.