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Iran offers to sell potential nuke fuel
Updated: 2004-02-16 09:19

Iran declared Sunday it plans to sell nuclear reactor fuel internationally, establishing the Islamic republic as a country in possession of technology the United States wants to keep from spreading.

Announcing the decision, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran has made an "important achievement" in possessing the technology to enrich uranium, and insisted the project would be for peaceful use.

Once Iran produces nuclear fuel, it will market it under the strict supervision of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, he said.

"This is an industry which can both be used by our plants and supplied to the international markets," Kharrazi was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA. "No one can deprive us of this natural, legal and legitimate right. This industry is strictly for peaceful use."

He added that Iran has suspended uranium enrichment, "but this does not mean that we will give up this industry, which is our national pride."

The United States seeks to restrict countries from acquiring uranium enrichment technology, and Iran's sale of fuel internationally would prove it already possesses the capability.

Washington suspects Iran of conducting a secret program to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists its program is geared only toward energy production.

On Sunday, Kharrazi accused the United States of trying to influence the IAEA board before it meets in March to hear a report on Iran's compliance record.

"Americans want to influence the upcoming IAEA meeting, but we are ready to cooperate transparently and answer all questions. IAEA supervision is carried out carefully and we have nothing to worry about," he said.

U.S. officials have said if the meeting finds Iran is not in compliance, they could urge the IAEA board to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions or other options.

To dispel suspicions Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, Iran signed an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty late last year allowing unfettered inspections of its nuclear sites. It also suspended its uranium enrichment program — insisting it was a voluntary, temporary good-will gesture.

Last week, diplomats in Vienna told The Associated Press that U.N. inspectors sifting through Iran's nuclear files had discovered drawings of high-tech equipment that could be used to make weapons-grade uranium. The diplomats said the designs were of a P-2 centrifuge — more advanced than the P-1 model Iran has acknowledged using to enrich uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes.

Preliminary investigations by inspectors working for the IAEA indicated they matched drawings of equipment found in Libya and supplied by an illicit network headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb.

The diplomats said Iran did not volunteer the designs, but emphasized that despite calling into question Iran's pledge to be fully open with inspectors, the discovery did not advance suspicions that Tehran was trying to make nuclear weapons.

On Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the designs were meant to meet the nation's energy requirements.

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