Iran ignores deadline and takes nuclear talks to brink

Tehran resists signing up to deal that would see enriched uranium sent abroad

Iran has ignored a deadline to respond to a proposed deal from the UN nuclear watchdog, saying it would give its verdict next week. Tehran's playing for time, coupled with reports of a counter-proposal that would keep its enriched uranium in-country, cast fresh doubts on the success of the diplomatic channel and raised the prospect of further sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) had given Tehran until yesterday to sign up to an agreement under which it would send its uranium to Russia and France for enrichment. As the deadline loomed, state television quoted a member of Iran's negotiating team who attended this week's talks in Vienna as saying that Tehran preferred to buy in nuclear fuel from abroad. This would fail to reduce Iran's domestic stockpile from worrying the international community, which fears it could be used for weapons.

As fears grew that the negotiations might be on the brink of collapse, the IAEA issued a statement saying that Iran had asked for more time to respond to the proposal, which had already been accepted by Washington, Paris and Moscow. "Iran informed [us] today that it is considering the proposal in depth and in a favourable light, but needs until the middle of next week to provide a response," it said.

US President Barack Obama has stepped up diplomatic engagement with the Iranian regime since coming to power, and Tehran's signature on the deal would have been seen as a major triumph for this new approach. Last night, a US State Department department spokesman said: "Obviously we would have preferred to have a response today. We approach this with a sense of urgency ... We hope that they will next week provide a positive response".

Talks were continuing last night, but Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, said: "I cannot say the situation regarding Iran is very positive."

Earlier in the day, Iranian television quoted a senior Iranian negotiator as saying: "Iran is interested in buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor. We are waiting for the other party's constructive and trust-building response."

David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which monitors nuclear proliferation, said: "This is a bad sign – buying nuclear fuel abroad is a complete non-starter. They seem to be looking for modifications that would fundamentally weaken the deal."

Although the IAEA's plan has not been made public, it is understood that it entails Iran shipping out 1.2 tonnes of its stockpile of 1.5 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to the IAEA. It would then be passed to Russia for refinement to 19.7 per cent purity, and then moved on to France to be turned into fuel rods.

If Tehran signs up to the deal, it would seriously handicap the country's options for manufacturing nuclear weapons, as 0.98 tonnes is the generally accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed for a single nuclear bomb.

Circulating the proposals to the representatives of the Western powers and Iran in Vienna midweek, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA said: "I very much hope that people see the big picture: see that this agreement could open the way for a complete normalisation of relations between Iran and the international community."

However, according to diplomatic sources, even if Iran finally agrees to the deal, it would demand that the uranium is sent out in separate batches over a prolonged period. The IAEA plan is for the entire amount to be transferred in one single shipment.

Most analysts agree that a failure to secure a deal would not mean that there would be military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities in the near future.

However, yesterday America and Israel launched a major joint military exercise with more than a thousand US troops and 17 US Navy ships joining Israeli forces for a week-long exercise. Israeli officials have kept up warnings that they reserve the right to carry out a pre-emptive attack on the facilities if the diplomatic dialogue fails.

Timeline: Nuclear negotiations

*25 September: In a dramatic press conference at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Barack Obama – flanked by Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown – reveals the existence of a secret underground nuclear reactor at Qom, and calls for fresh sanctions against Tehran.

*1 October: Iranian diplomats meet representatives of international powers in Geneva and agree to inspections at Qom. It also said it would send uranium to be processed overseas.

*21 October: Despite tensions over Iran's refusal to negotiate with France, three days of talks in Vienna conclude with a draft IAEA deal.

*Yesterday: Iran ignores the deadline to respond to the IAEA proposal, instead offering its own plan where it would buy in nuclear fuel rather than sending its own uranium stocks overseas for processing.

*Tomorrow: IAEA officials due to visit the Qom site for first international inspection.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...