Iran has rejected an international plan that called for shipping most of its low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment as part of an effort to prevent the building of a nuclear weapon, diplomats said Tuesday.
In a response to the offer from the United States and five other world powers, they said, Tehran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it wants to delay the transfer of the material, which it claims is for medical research, by at least a year and make it in several tranches, which would effectively kill its purpose.
“It is clearly an inadequate response,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.
Mr. Crowley and other officials said Iran’s counteroffer was not much different than what Iranian officials had said in public. They also questioned how formal and final Tehran’s decision was.
President Obama had given Iran until Dec. 31 to respond to the uranium proposal. On Jan. 6, Iran’s chief representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, finally presented an answer to the U.N. agency’s director-general, Yukiya Amano. The meeting was first reported by the Associated Press, though it was not clear whether the response was written or oral.
U.S. and European officials said that Iran initially agreed to the uranium deal during an Oct. 1 meeting in Geneva, that included representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The deal called for the export of about 70 percent of Iran’s low-enriched uranium. Russia initially volunteered to take the uranium but that offer was rejected by Tehran, which so far has not responded to a separate offer from Turkey.
The West has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons using a civilian program as a cover, a claim Tehran denies. Around 2,200 pounds of low-enriched uranium are enough to produce a nuclear warhead, and Western officials believe that Iran has more than that.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions against the Islamic republic, and its Western members are pushing for more penalties, but China has so far resisted. Beijing sent a low-level official to a high-level meeting of the six powers in New York on Saturday.
Still, Mr. Crowley said Washington will press on with what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called “crippling sanctions.”
In Tehran on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the Security Council’s failure to agree on sanctions a newfound “realism” and urged “some Western countries” to “correct their approach.”
“We are ready to help with the realistic approach and at the same time we will wait for public and backstage developments in Iran’s nuclear case,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Monday.