Iran to respond on uranium deal

TEHRAN: Iran will on Thursday deliver to the UN atomic watchdog its much-awaited response to a Western-backed nuclear deal aimed at shipping abroad Tehran's low-enriched uranium, the Mehr news agency said.

The report quoted an unnamed informed source as saying Iran has proposed some "modifications" in the draft of the UN-brokered plan, but has accepted, in what will be Tehran's "final response", the overall framework of the plan.

A top aide of US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, warned that Washington would respond if Tehran faltered on its commitments regarding its nuclear programme, but Iran's Defence minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted Tehran will never give up its nuclear rights.

Mehr said that Tehran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltaniheh, will in Vienna meet Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the agency, on Thursday and "give Iran's response to the Vienna talks."

The IAEA brokered the deal during the Vienna talks earlier this month which envisages Iran shipping out its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for converting into fuel for a Tehran reactor.

An influential Iranian lawmaker said the country's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) -- the top national security decision making body -- will later Wednesday put the finishing touches to Tehran's official response.

"The council will decide on Wednesday its position about the response to the agency's proposal on supply of fuel to Tehran reactor," Alaeddin Borujerdi told the ISNA news agency.

Borujerdi, head of parliament's committee on national security and foreign policy, advocates that Iran's LEU be sent abroad gradually and not all in one shot.

Iranian state media had said on Tuesday that Tehran wanted "very important changes" in the deal arranged by the IAEA.

France says the deal calls for Tehran to export to Russia more than 1,200 kilos (2,640 pounds) of its 3.5 percent LEU for refining up to 20 percent purity to fuel the Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes.

World powers back this, as they fear Iran intends to enrich its LEU to even higher levels for use in atomic weapons. Another plus from their perspective is that the Tehran facility is closely monitored by the IAEA.

Tehran says its enrichment drive -- the most controversial aspect of its nuclear project -- is peaceful. Enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear reactors as well as to make the fissile core of an atom bomb.

Iran was to offer its response to the deal by last Friday but delayed it amid conflicting views on it from its senior officials who are largely of the opinion that Tehran must transport its LEU in batches rather than all at once.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has been West's negotiator with Tehran, was expected to speak to Iranian officials later Wednesday regarding the deal.

On Tuesday, he said the IAEA-drafted deal was a "good deal."

"I don't think this requires fundamental changes," he said, referring to Tuesday's Iranian media reports that Tehran will seek big changes to the deal.

Since 2006, Solana has been negotiating on behalf of world powers to try to persuade Iran to enter talks on suspending enrichment work in exchange for political and economic benefits.

Iran's moderate newspaper Tehran Emrooz in an editorial on Wednesday said that Tehran must give its LEU in steps and in return for gradual easing of UN sanctions which could help "build confidence" between Iran and world powers.

Iran is under three sets of UN sanctions for enriching uranium at its Natanz plant.

The United States, meanwhile, is prepared to respond if Iran does not abide by its commitments over the controversial nuclear programme, a top aide to Obama said.

"Iran now needs to follow through on its commitments," National Security Adviser James Jones said Tuesday.

"Nothing is off the table," Jones warned in a Washington speech to the liberal pro-Israel lobby group J Street, without specifying details of a possible response.

"We will see if engagement is able to produce the concrete results we need, and we'll be prepared if it does not."

But Tehran's Defence Minister Vahidi reiterated that the Islamic republic will never give up its right to pursue nuclear technology.

"Iran will never surrender to Western pressure when it comes to the nuclear issue," he said, adding that if Israel or any other country "wants to harm our country, we will give them a response more bitter and crushing than what we gave Saddam" Hussein.