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Iran stalls nuclear program deal as clock ticks towards sanctions

Iran has 'responded' to a nuclear swap deal. But the IAEA won't say if Iran said 'yes' or 'no.' It appears Iran is making fresh demands. If so, sanctions from the US may be coming soon.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 29, 2009

UN nuclear inspectors, headed by Herman Nackaerts, second left, arrive at Vienna's Schwechat airport Thursday, after visiting a previously secret Iranian uranium enrichment site.

Hans Punz/AP



With clocks ticking in Europe and the US on sanctions for Iran over its nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Thursday characterized Iran's belated reply to a deal cut in Vienna last week as "cooperation, not confrontation" – even as Iran appears not to have offered a "yes" on the negotiated four-party deal to ship the bulk of its uranium to Russia for reprocessing and return for use in a medical reactor.

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Instead, reports suggest Tehran's leaders want to alter a modest agreement that is seen as a test of good faith by the White House and other capitals. Reports suggest Iran wants to break up a single, bulk shipment of 2600 pounds of uranium into smaller shipments, something France and the US oppose.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also tried on Thursday to turn the West's framing of the uranium deal as a good faith test for Iran into a test of the veracity of the world powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that brokered the deal. Speaking to a political rally a day after a team of IAEA inspectors visited a previously undisclosed Iranian centrifuge site near the shrine city of Qom, he said "Nuclear fuel supply for the Tehran reactor is an opportunity to evaluate the honesty of the powers and the agency (IAEA)."

"We accept any hand extended to us in trust and honesty, without any plot or lie. But if that proves not to be the case, our response will be the same as we gave to [President George] Bush and his cronies," Ahmadinejad said, according to news reports from Iran.

The IAEA so far has only confirmed that Iran replied to the draft deal cut with Russia, the US, and France – not what was contained in the response. All three other powers gave an unambiguous "yes" to the Vienna deal last Friday. Iran, faced with political divisions, said it would reply this week.

"IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has received an initial response from the Iranian authorities to his proposal to use Iran's low-enriched uranium for manufacturing fuel for the continued operation of the Tehran Research Reactor," read a press release from his office today, which added that Mr. ElBaradei "is engaged in consultations with the government of Iran as well as all relevant parties, with the hope that agreement on his proposal can be reached soon. "