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Iran promise to send nuclear fuel abroad: A major concession?

The real test, caution some, is whether Iran follows through on the tentative nuclear deal that would effectively prevent Tehran from developing a bomb.

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More details on the enrichment deal
Iran also agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit a recently revealed second uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom within two weeks. It also promised that its negotiators would meet the US and other members of the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – before the end of October.

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Iran has long insisted that it needed to control its own nuclear fuel cycle since, it said, it couldn't take the chance that foreign powers would cut off its access to the fuel it needs for fuel for its peaceful reactors. A Russian proposal much like the one agreed to on Thursday has been on the table for years without a positive response from Tehran. Citing unnamed US and other Western officials, Reuters reports that the plan "would be a 'confidence-building' gesture that would show that Iran is willing to let its uranium stocks out of the country and be enriched elsewhere."

The fuel would be returned to the Tehran research reactor, which was built in 1967 with American assistance as part of the US "atoms for peace" program. The reactor produces medical isotopes used to treat cancer and other diseases. That facility is monitored by the IAEA, and if the plant is run as planned all the fuel that is to be processed abroad and returned would be used up within about a year. It would also take roughly a year for the uranium to go abroad for processing.

The New York Times extracted an acknowledgment from an unnamed US official that if Iran has secret stockpiles of uranium and secret processing plants, Thursday's accomplishment would be rendered "hollow," as the Times put it.

Will Iran follow through?
The major question for the coming days, as most commentators have pointed out, will be follow-through. Iranian officials have so far not commented on the deal, and if they publicly back away, this could prove to be something of a false dawn. But if implementation is forthcoming, it opens up a host of intriguing questions as to why.

Is President Ahmadinejad responding to criticism from his political opponents and his own establishment that intransigence on the nuclear issue has harmed Iran and isolated it from much of the international community? Were other, private guarantees made in direct talks between chief US nuclear negotiator William Burns and his Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili? Was it simply that an emerging consensus among the great powers – with even Russia saying its patience had limits – that more sanctions would be placed on Iran if progress wasn't made by year's end finally forced the Islamic republic's hand?

Stay tuned.

How close is Iran to a nuclear bomb?

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