Iran lawmaker rejects nuke deal

TEHRAN: 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 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.

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. 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 on-line briefing, also said the proposal drafted in Vienna allows Iran to pursue production of radio-isotopes for medical purposes, "while constituting a useful gesture that could contribute to reducing tensions over the nuclear issue."

He gave no further details.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the draft agreement was "a very positive step."

Over the past days, both Iran's head of atomic energy department Ali Akbar Salehi and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated that Iran would not give up its rigts to uranium enrichment.

That suggests Iran plans to keep its enrichment facilities active, an assurance against the fears that the fuel supply from abroad could be cut off.

Salehi said Tuesday in an interview with a local newspaper said that Iran was willing to get fuel from abroad and that further enrichment has no economic feasibility for Iran. "It has an economic aspect. For us purchasing enriched uranium is easier than its enrichment" domestically, he said.

Iran needs only 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of 20 percent-enriched uranium for its Tehran plant in 30 years. The plant has been producing radioisotopes for medical purposes over the past decades.

Iran has already arranged its facilities to produce fuel for its planned nuclear power plant at a 3.5 percent enrichment rate. The plant, built by Russia, is scheduled to begin operations before the end of the year.