VIENNA — Six world powers have readied a resolution critical of Iran's nuclear program, diplomats said Tuesday, as Tehran suggested it was still ready to discuss a U.N.-backed plan meant to delay the Islamic Republic's ability to make a nuclear weapon.
Under the plan, Iran would export its uranium for enrichment in Russia and France, where it would be converted into fuel rods to be returned to Iran about a year later.
The plan was embraced by the six powers because it would have committed Tehran to ship out about 70 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile, which can be used both to make nuclear fuel or enriched further to fissile warhead material.
Tehran initially appeared to agree, only to backtrack in recent weeks, with most officials saying the country was not ready to export most of its enriched uranium in one large batch and then wait up to a year for its return in the form of fuel rods.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters Tuesday that no one in Iran had "ever said ... that we are opposed to shipping out our uranium," adding: "What has been discussed is the method to ship out this material."
He did not indicate if he was suggesting that Iran was seeking to ship out small batches, then wait until they were turned into fuel rods before exporting the next small batch. That approach has been rejected by the West as defeating a main purpose of the plan – stripping Tehran of most of its weapons-capable material.
Iran now has enough enriched material to make one or two nuclear warheads, even though it insists it is interested only in generating power through enrichment.
Were it to ship out most of what it has stockpiled, it would not be left with enough to make such weapons for at least a year, until it enriched enough new material to replace what it had exported.
Iranian officials have accused the West of breaking past promises to supply it technology. They say they don't trust that the West will eventually send back the fuel rods if Iran lets its uranium abroad.
In Vienna, the six-power move to criticize Iran in the form of a draft resolution for an upcoming International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting reflected international exasperation with perceived Iranian delaying tactics and refusal to heed pressure to compromise on its nuclear program.
"We urge the Board to send the strongest possible signal to Iran that its current actions are a matter of grave concern," Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement. "Iran needs to comply with its obligations both to the IAEA and to the U.N."
The diplomats told The Associated Press that the draft document calls on Iran to be more open about its nuclear plans following its recent revelation that it had secretly nearly completed building a new uranium enrichment facility.
The draft urges Iran to open its nuclear program to wider perusal by the IAEA, they said. As well, it calls on Iran to answer all outstanding questions on that enrichment facility, comply with U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend enrichment and further construction of the plant, and stop stonewalling an IAEA probe of allegations it tried to develop nuclear weapons.
The development is significant because it groups Russia and China with the four Western powers – the U.S., Britain, France and Germany – in unified criticism of Iran's nuclear program. Russia and China have acted as a drag on Western calls for tougher action against Iran.
While the board passed an IAEA resolution critical of Iran in 2006 with the support of all six world powers, subsequent attempts by the West to get backing from all 35 board nations foundered on resistance from Russia and China.
Those two nations have also resisted U.S. and European calls for tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran for refusing to freeze its enrichment program.
While any board resolution is mostly symbolic, it does get reported to the Security Council. Beyond that, unified action in Vienna could signal that both Russia and China may be more amenable to a fourth set of Security Council sanctions on Iran than they have been in past years.
The diplomats spoke two days before the board meeting. They demanded anonymity because their information was confidential.
There were other signs Tuesday of Russian-Iranian strain. A top Iranian military official warned Moscow his country could resort to legal action in response to Moscow's delay in delivering a sophisticated missile defense system under a contract Tehran says was agreed to in 2007.
Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hassan Mansourian was quoted by Iran's Press TV as saying the Russians had "failed to meet their commitment due to pressure form the Zionist Lobby and the Americans."
"And as this agreement is an official one, it can be pursued through international legal bodies," he was quoted as saying."
Since its clandestine enrichment program was revealed in 2002, Iran has continued to expand that activity, asserting it needed it to make nuclear fuel for a future network of reactors. But concerns about enrichment's other use – creating fissile nuclear warhead material – has led to steady international pressure on the Islamic Republic to freeze enrichment – something Iran refuses to do.
Karimi contributed from Tehran. Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed from London.