Europe skeptical over Iran nuke offer

Powers question sincerity of the bid to send uranium abroad for enrichment.

Davutoglu and Mottaki  (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Davutoglu and Mottaki
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Europeanpowers reacted skeptically Wednesday to Iran'soffer to send uranium abroad for enrichment, questioning thesincerity of the bid to end Iran'sshowdown with the West.

French Foreign Ministry Bernard Kouchner said he sawthe surprise Iranian gesture as stalling rather than responding to aninternational offer that, if rejected, could lead to a new round ofsanctions.

"My (personal) interpretation is that they arebuying us time and they are losing it" themselves, Kouchner saidat a joint press briefing with China's foreign minister. "I amperplexed and even a bit pessimistic."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle toldjournalists that "Iran has to bemeasured by its actions, not by what it says."

"It is up to Iranto show an end to its refusal to negotiate," he said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iranwas ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment asrequested by the United Nations. An International Atomic EnergyAgency proposal last year envisaged Iransending low-enriched uranium to Russia and then to France for furtherenrichment and then processing into metal fuel rods for use in aresearch reactor in Teheran. It was aimed at lowering internationaltensions between Iran and the countriesnegotiating over its nuclear program — the US, China, Russia,Britain, France and Germany.

Britain's Foreign office said Wednesday that: "Wehave always supported the proposal that the IAEA made in October. IfIran is now indicating that they willtake it up we look forward to them making that clear to the IAEA."

Russia and China, which has taken over the presidencyof the UN Security Council, have been reticent about voting a fourthround of sanctions on Iran. US Secretaryof State Hillary Clinton said last week that she and others whosupport additional sanctions on Iranover its disputed nuclear program are lobbying China to back new UNpenalties on the Iranian government.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jieche stressed theneed to continue negotiations with Iranand come up with a quick diplomatic solution.

"We want a consensus as soon as possible,"he said.

It was unclear how much of a concession theAhmadinejad comments represented.

He appeared to be saying for the first time that Iranwas willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to bereturned in the form of fuel for its Teheran research reactor. Buthis time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of theyear that Western officials say it would take for Iran'senriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor.

"If Iran is willingto revert to the plan agreed upon earlier, we will only welcomethis," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a newsconference: "We want to verify this information now."

Iran's foreign ministersaid the plan to send its uranium abroad was aimed at buildingconfidence in the country's nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Turkeythat swapping low-enriched uranium with uranium enriched by 20percent was "a formula which could build confidence."