October 21, 2004 No.

Iran Rejects the European Offer to Supply it With Nuclear Fuel

By: A. Savyon*

On the 18th of September, Iran was called to halt its uranium enrichment activities immediately and permanently in a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. Iran rejected the demand and claimed that its nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment designed to produce a nuclear fuel cycle, are anchored in the international treaties and regulations. [1]

Recently, the three European countries, France, Germany, and the UK, initiated (in the talks between the EU and Iran in the past two years) a new proposal where nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes would be provided to Iran by European countries as part of an incentive package. Iran principally refused the offer. In the next few days, the three foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the UK are expected to arrive in Tehran for talks, in which they will officially submit the offer.

Iran claims that its uranium enrichment program is meant only to power its nuclear reactors for civilian purposes, but the capability to produce an independent nuclear fuel cycle makes the production of nuclear bombs possible as well.

The international treaties and regulations in the field of nuclear proliferation prevention permits countries to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) solely for civilian purposes. The level of enrichment permitted for these purposes stands at 3%-7%, under inspection from the IAEA, and after prior notification of the Agency. On the other hand, high-enriched uranium (HEU), required for military purposes stands at a level of between 20%-90%.

The three Europeans, with backup from the G8, are offering Iran nuclear fuel in order to operate its nuclear reactor in Bushehr, while committing to immediately cease any independent Uranium enrichment activities. The meaning of this offer is that if Iran indeed wants nuclear fuel for civilian purposes - then the fuel it will receive from the Europeans at an enrichment level of 3%-7% should meet its needs. However, it will not suffice Iran for military use - but rather for civilian purposes only, and under the tight supervision of the international bodies over the Iranian use of that fuel.

The Iranian Reaction

The Iranian foreign minister's spokesperson, Hamid Reza Asefi rejected the offer, stating: "[this is a question of] the preservation of our inalienable right [to pursue Uranium enrichment activities]… the Europeans will have to accept the fact that they cannot force Iran to do [whatever they want]." [2] Iran claims that it is determined to achieve independent nuclear fuel cycle capabilities and that it cannot be swayed from this right. [3]

In order to defend its ability to enrich Uranium beyond the requirement of civilian needs, Iran makes several arguments:

  1. Uranium enrichment is a legitimate right that is reserved to every NPT member state.
  2. Denial of Iran's right by the international community or the surrendering of this right by Iran is a detriment to Iran's national interests.
  3. Iran has cooperated fully and transparently with the IAEA. [4]
  4. Preventing Iran from enriching Uranium is part of an anti-Iranian scheme by the U.S. and its followers.
  5. Europe has failed to meet its obligations to provide Iran with advanced nuclear technology and to close the investigation file against Iran's nuclear activities by the IAEA in return for a voluntary and temporary halt of enrichment activities, as was agreed in the 'Tehran and Brussels understandings.' [5]
  6. The Western countries retain a Monopoly on nuclear technology and see Iran as a nuclear fuel export market, thus trying to coerce it to buy fuel from them.
  7. It is cheaper for Iran to produce nuclear fuel than to import it from the West.

*Ayelet Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project.

[1] See MEMRI report No. 189, September 21, 2004, 'Iran's Nuclear Policy Crisis,' Iran's Nuclear Policy Crisis

[2] Aftab-e Yazd (Iran), October 19, 2004.

[3] See statements of Iranian officials on this matter: Iranian president Khatami, IRNA February 13, 2003; Aftab-e Yazd (Iran) September 6, August 29, 2004; statements by Supreme National Security Council Secretary, Hassan Rohani, Keyhan (Iran) June 19, September 8, 2004 and also claims by Hussain Mussavian, Aftab-e Yazd (Iran), Siyasat-I Rouz, October 18, 2004.

[4] IAEA reports contradict this claim.

[5] Iran and the European countries have reached secret understandings about the nuclear activities of Iran in a series of meeting during the past two years. As a result of these talks Iran surprisingly announced, in October 2003, its willingness to sign the 'additional protocol' and the cessation of its actions in the field of Uranium enrichment as a gesture of good will, in what was known as the 'Tehran declaration'. In February 2004, Iran agreed to halt the production and assembly of centrifuge parts, in what was subsequently known as 'the Brussels understandings'.