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October 3, 2006
Iranians Offer France For Enrichment

An eleventh-hour offer to resolve the nuclear standoff has come from Iran's negotiators, the Jerusalem Post reports this morning. Picking up on a concept from early in the conflict, the deputy chief of Iran's nuclear agency suggested that another country handle uranium enrichment for Iran, only this time Mohammed Saeedi has proposed the French instead of the Russians:

A top Iranian nuclear official proposed Tuesday that France create a consortium to enrich Iran's uranium, in a bid to satisfy the international community's demands for outside oversight of Tehran's nuclear program.

"To be able to arrive at a solution, we have just had an idea. We propose that France create a consortium for the production in Iran of enriched uranium," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, told France-Info radio.

"That way France, through the companies Eurodif and Areva, could control in a tangible way our enrichment activities," he added. ...

Saeedi gave no other details of his proposal, which appeared to be an Iranian initiative. France, a permanent member of the Security Council, is among the countries leading the push to stop Iran's nuclear activities. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman would not comment on Saeedi's proposal early Tuesday.

It's difficult to know whether to take Saeedi seriously. France would make a logical partner, as it generates 75% of its electricity through nuclear energy. They have a market for nuclear generation and skilled deliverers as a result. France would certainly have the capability, and surely would have the willingness to do business with Teheran on such a project.

On the other hand, this looks like another attempt to stall Western sanctions. The US remains confident that Russia and China will join in any sanctions that result from further Iranian defiance, and Iran remains concerned enough to continue making cooperative noises while keeping its options wide open. American confidence has thus far been misplaced; Russia has openly said it will not vote for sanctions, and given its animosity to the same Western coalition that wants to detach Georgia from its sphere of influence, changing his mind seems a Herculean task. Without Russia, China will balk. Certainly Nicholas Burns knows all of this and remains optimistic, which either means that Burns knows where a few skeletons are buried or he's down to issuing optimistic assessments in the hope they come true.

However, one has to consider another element which could explain the Iranian suggestion. They played footise for months, even as long as two years, with the Russians on a similar deal. Iran awarded Russia the contract to build its reactor at Bushehr, but the project has suffered from many delays. Iran may question Russia's ability to complete the reactor, and thus their ability to keep it supplied with fuel. Given Russia's track record on nuclear power plants once in operation -- recall Chernobyl -- the Iranians may have decided that they'd like a better contractor for their nuclear energy program. France would be the logical choice, not only for its proven track record in the field but also because of its status as a major trading partner with Teheran.

This could be a significant development, but if so, it would have to come from someone higher up than Saeedi. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he'll accept French enrichment in place of Iranian enrichment, then we can take this seriously enough to make a deal. Until then, it will look like just another stall tactic.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 3, 2006 5:13 AM

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Tracked on October 3, 2006 6:25 AM


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