Iran says it will respond to IAEA nuclear proposal next week
Iran will reply next week to a UN-drafted plan for it to cut a stockpile of nuclear fuel, Iranian state television quoted a senior official as saying on Friday.
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AFP - UN inspectors will enter Iran's controversial second uranium enrichment plant on Sunday two days after Tehran postponed its response to a UN deal on supplying the Islamic republic with nuclear fuel.
Iranian media say the UN team is expected to spend two to three days in the country as it inspects the facility being built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom, south of the capital.
Tehran's disclosure of the new plant to the IAEA on September 21 triggered widespread global outrage, with US President Barack Obama warning Iran would face "increased pressure" if it does not come clean on its nuclear activities.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who announced the Qom plant inspection during a visit to Tehran on October 4, criticised Tehran for its late disclosure of the facility's existence.
"Based on the IAEA regulations, all countries should inform the IAEA on the day they begin construction" of a nuclear plant, he said. Iran informed the agency about a year after building began.
Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear programme. It produces fuel for civilian reactors, but in highly extended form can also make the fissile core of an atomic weapon.
Iran has been enriching uranium at a separate facility in Natanz for several years in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions.
Officials claim that new generation centrifuges -- the devices which spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium -- would be installed at Qom.
Western powers led by Washington suspect Tehran is enriching uranium with the ultimate aim of making the bomb, a charge Iran strongly denies.
Sunday's UN inspection of Qom has gained further significance after Tehran on Friday delayed its response to an IAEA deal under which Iran would ship its existing stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to its close ally Russia.
World powers are concerned that the material could be further enriched to weapons grade by Iran.
The full details of the proposed IAEA deal have not been released, but France has said it calls on Iran to transfer 1,200 kilos of LEU from its Natanz plant to Russia by the end of 2009.
Russia would then enrich the material to the higher 19.75 percent needed for use in a Tehran research reactor which makes radio-isotopes for medical use.
Diplomats say Moscow would sub-contract to France the process of turning this Russian-enriched uranium into fuel rods for the reactor.
Iran's response to the IAEA proposal was due on Friday, but Tehran said then it will give its verdict next week.
Its envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran was still studying the deal, and "after final evaluation, I will give the result to Mr. ElBaradei when I return to Vienna next week."
Russia, France and the United States have all approved the IAEA plan, but Washington has said it is prepared to wait a few days for Iran's decision.
Tehran insists it will still not stop enriching uranium even if it does approve the IAEA offer.
"As we have said before, we will not give up our rights," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said this week.
"There is actually no need for us to enrich uranium to more than four or five percent purity as the reactors that we use need uranium enriched to a maximum of five percent.
"So, enrichment to five percent is the highest level that we want for our reactors. But that does not mean that we will renounce our right to enrich uranium level to a higher level."
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