Iranian officials are expected to huddle again with their Western counterparts Wednesday to hammer out a deal about the future of Tehran’s nuclear program.
A day earlier, talks between the two sides ended on an optimistic note, with the director-general of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency calling them constructive. The meetings are taking place at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The participants include Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh, and officials from France, Russia and the United States. At issue are Iran’s uranium enrichment plans. Tehran says its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes. But many in the international community have accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons capability. In early October, Iran and the West agreed in principle that low-enriched uranium produced in Iran would be sent abroad for further enrichment and then returned for use in medical research and treatment. The two sides now need to work out the details of the tentative deal.
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Low-enriched fuel has the potential of being further enriched into weapons-grade material. According to the plan: Iran will send its low-enriched uranium to Russia. Russia will then further enrich it, but keep it below weapons-grade, and send it to France. France will prepare the uranium for use in nuclear reactors by fabricating it into metal rods and send them to Iran. Iran will then use the rods in its nuclear reactors. “We had, this afternoon, quite a constructive meeting,” IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said at the end of Monday’s session. “We’re off to a good start. Most of the technical issues has been discussed.” But even as ElBaradei expressed hope, Iran’s state-run media said Tehran had ruled out France from a list of countries from which it would purchase the enriched metal rods. The French foreign ministry refused to comment on the matter until the talks conclude. “The meetings continue tomorrow,” a ministry spokesman said Monday. “So we want to let it play itself out before we comment.”