TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's foreign minister said Monday that Tehran may agree to ship part of its stockpile of low enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment in response to a U.N.-drafted plan.
Manouchehr Mottaki's comments are the first official indication that Iran may at least partly agree to a U.N.-drafted plan to ship much of its uranium to Russia for further enrichment and defuse the long running dispute over the country's nuclear program.
Mottaki said a final decision over the plan will come "soon."
Iran is weighing between the U.N.-drafted plan or buying its own enriched uranium abroad and keeping its own supply.
"To supply fuel, we may purchase it like in the past, or we may deliver part of (the low enriched uranium) fuel which we currently don't need," Mottaki said. "A decision will be made in the next few days."
The U.N. plan envisioned Iran delivering up to 70 percent of its fuel abroad.
In either case, Mottkai said Iran will continue to enrich its own uranium as well — something objected to by the U.S. and its allies over fears they could produce weapons-grade material.
"Iran's legal peaceful nuclear activities will continue and this issue (Iran's enrichment program) has nothing to do with supplying fuel for the Tehran reactor," he said.
The plan was drafted by the International Atomic Energy Agency Wednesday after three days of talks between Iran and the U.S., Russia and France in Vienna. The three countries endorsed the deal Friday, but Tehran has said it is still studying the proposal.
Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani has accused the West of trying to cheat his country with the proposal, raising further doubts about the likelihood Tehran will approve the deal.
Iran denies it has any intention of making a weapon, saying its nuclear program is only for generating electricity.
The Vienna-brokered plan would require Iran to send 2,420 pounds (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium — around 70 percent of its stockpile — to Russia in one batch by the end of the year, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Thursday.
After further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods for return to Iran for use in the Tehran reactor, he said.
The plan is attractive to the U.S. because it would consume a large amount of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, thereby limiting the potential for Tehran to secretly convert it into uranium suitable for a nuclear weapon.
A sum of 2,205 pounds (1,000 kilograms) is the commonly accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed to produce weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear warhead.
Iran is enriching uranium to a 3.5 percent level for a nuclear power plant it is planning to build in southwestern Iran. Iranian officials have said it is more economical to purchase the more highly enriched uranium needed for the Tehran reactor than produce it domestically.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner echoed the urgency felt by the West over reaching an agreement over Iran's nuclear program in comments made during a visit to Beirut.
He told the Daily Telegraph, in an interview published Monday, that time was running out since Israel might well launch a preemptive strike.
"They (the Israelis) will not tolerate an Iranian bomb. We know that, all of us. So that is an additional risk and that is why we must decrease the tension and solve the problem," he said.