Scepticism over Iran uranium offer

European powers reacted sceptically today to Iran’s offer to send uranium abroad for enrichment as a way of ending its showdown with the west.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his personal interpretation of the Iranian offer is that they are “trying to buy time”.

He told reporters in Paris: “I’m perplexed, and even a bit pessimistic.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Iran is ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment as requested by the United Nations.

A UN proposal last year envisaged Iran sending low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment and use in a research reactor in Tehran.

The move was aimed at lowering international tensions between Iran and the countries negotiating over its nuclear program – the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

It was unclear how much of a concession Mr Ahmadinejad’s comments represented.

He appeared to be saying for the first time that Iran was willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to be returned in the form of fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

But his timeframe of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran’s enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told journalists that Iran has to be “measured by its actions, not by what it says”.

He added: “It is up to Iran to show an end to its refusal to negotiate.”

“If there is a new approach, Iran has to submit its proposals to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Vienna, then the international community can evaluate them.”

If there is no real movement on the Iranian side, Mr Westerwelle said, the international community will go forward with preparing new measures including sanctions.

“In the past two months and years, we have seen a lot of manoeuvring by Iran and that is why only actions count, not the words,” Mr Westerwelle said.

Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the plan to send its uranium abroad was aimed at building confidence in the country’s nuclear programme.

He said in Turkey that swapping low-enriched uranium with uranium enriched by 20% was “a formula which could build confidence”.

Mr Mottaki said Tehran’s research reactor would need fuel within a year.

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