TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's deputy parliament speaker on Thursday dismissed an internationally backed draft plan to have Tehran ship its uranium abroad for enrichment, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The remarks by Mohammad Reza Bahonar were the first reaction in Tehran on the proposal, presented Wednesday after three days of talks between Iran and world powers in the Austrian capital, Vienna.
The plan is seen by the international community as a way to curb Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Tehran is expected to decide by Friday on whether to approve the plan that calls for shipping Iran's uranium to Russia for enrichment to a level that renders it suitable as nuclear fuel for energy production — not for nuclear weapons.
"The United States demanded Iran ship uranium abroad, in return for getting fuel back," Bahonar said, according to IRNA. "But Iran does not accept this."
Iran's parliament will not vote on the draft plan, and Bahonar does not speak for the government, which is to decide on the matter.
But it's unclear if his comments could reflect high-level resistance to the deal or the opinions of some influential politicians in Iran.
There has been no response so far to the offer from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The proposal may meet resistance by some Iranian leaders because it weakens Iran's control over its stockpiles of nuclear fuel and could be perceived as a concession to the United States, which took part in the Vienna talks with France and Russia.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that although some in Iran may disagree with the proposal, the U.S. government was waiting to hear the government's final decision Friday.
"I'm sure there are a lot of voices in Tehran right now, but we're going to wait for that authoritative answer tomorrow," said Kelly, who has called the draft agreement "a very positive step."
In Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed skepticism of the agreement in the country's first official comments. He said the plan, if signed, would delay Iran's nuclear program by only a year and will not foil what he called the country's "real plan to achieve nuclear capability."
Under the Vienna-brokered draft, Iran is required to send 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of this year, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Thursday.
After further enrichment in Russia, the uranium will be converted into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in an aging reactor used for medical research. Valero said France would be the one making that conversion.
"France is an active party to this accord," Valero said, stressing that Paris is still a player in the proposal despite Iranian criticism of any French role in the plan earlier this week.
Valero, in an online briefing, also said the proposal drafted in Vienna allows Iran to pursue production of radioisotopes for medical purposes "while constituting a useful gesture that could contribute to reducing tensions over the nuclear issue."
Iran needs 20 percent-enriched uranium for its Tehran plant, which has been producing radioisotopes for medical purposes over the past decades.
Iran is currently producing fuel at a 3.5 percent enrichment rate for a nuclear power plant built by Russia that is scheduled to begin operations before the end of the year.
The head of Iran's atomic energy department, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in an interview with a local paper Tuesday that purchasing fuel for the older reactor makes more economic sense than further enriching its own uranium domestically.
But Iranian officials have reiterated that the country will not give up its right to uranium enrichment, suggesting it plans to keep its enrichment facilities active, an assurance against fears that the fuel supply from abroad could be cut off.