Senior Iranian lawmakers rejected on Saturday any possibility of Tehran shipping uranium abroad for further enrichment, intensifying pressures on the government to reject the U.N.-backed plan altogether.
Prominent conservative lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Iran won't ship its low enriched uranium abroad in a single batch or in several shipments, a compromise suggested by some government officials, under any circumstances.
"Nothing will be given of the 1,200 kilograms (of low enriched uranium) ... to the other side in exchange for 20 percent enriched fuel, not in one batch nor in several. It is out of question," the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Boroujerdi as saying Saturday.
The U.N.-brokered plan required Iran to send 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium — around 70 percent of its stockpile — to Russia in one batch by the end of the year, easing concerns the material would be used for a bomb.
After further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material.
Earlier, Iran had indicated that it may agree to send only "part" of its stockpile in several shipments. Should the talks fail to help Iran obtain the fuel from abroad, Iran has threatened to enrich uranium to the higher level needed to power the research reactor itself domestically.
The Tehran research reactor needs uranium enriched to about 20 percent, higher than the 3.5 percent-enriched uranium Iran is producing for a nuclear power plant it plans to build in southwestern Iran. Enriching uranium to even higher levels can produce weapons-grade materials.
The United States and its allies are unlikely to accept anything substantially less than the original plan, which aimed to delay Iran's potential ability of making nuclear weapons by at least a year by divesting Iran of most of its enriched uranium and returning it as research reactor fuel.
Kremlin: Sanctions can't be excluded
On Saturday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signaled that Moscow could back sanctions against Iran if it fails to take a constructive stance in international talks over its nuclear program.
He told the German magazine Der Spiegel that it would be better to avoid sanctions, but they can't be excluded if there is no progress in the talks.
If 70 percent of Iran's uranium is exported in one shipment — or at the most two shipments in quick succession — Tehran would need about a year to produce enough uranium to again have the stockpile it needs for a weapon.
Tehran raising strong doubts
While the Iranian government is still considering the U.N. plan, the hardening posture of Iranian lawmakers has raised strong doubts that Tehran will approve the deal.
Another conservative lawmaker, Hossein Naqvi Hosseini, said Iran had three options to procure fuel for its reactor; to buy the fuel from other countries; to accept the U.N.-brokered plan; or to enrich uranium to a higher level domestically and produce the required fuel itself.
"The countries proposing ... are not trusted by the Islamic Republic of Iran because they didn't carry out their obligations to us in the past. Therefore, the second option is out of question," ISNA quoted Hosseini as saying.
"Exchange of uranium in return for fuel is out of question," another conservative lawmaker Ali Aghazadeh was quoted by ISNA as saying. "We have reached this point ourselves and we need to continue the path ourselves. It is their (U.S. and its allies) obligations to give us fuel. If they fail to do so, we will supply it ourselves."
Iran has not formally rejected the UN-backed plan outright and Boroujerdi says the Supreme National Security Council, the country's top security decision-making body, is deliberating over the proposed deal.
Iran has officially asked for more talks on the issue and some hard-liners say they should receive the nuclear fuel first before shipping out the enriched uranium stocks.