International leaders urged Iran on Monday to accept a UN proposal calling for the country to get nuclear reactor fuel only after shipping most its own uranium abroad for enrichment.
Diplomats from Britain, Russia and Germany urged Iran to accept the offer, and France warned Tehran that "delaying" tactics concerning its nuclear program would not be tolerated.
International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, in his final address before stepping down after 12 years as the UN-watchdog's chief, said in a speech to the UN General Assembly that Iran should "be as forthcoming as possible" in responding to the proposal.
The statements come after Iran sent out mixed signals Monday regarding the IAEA plan, which required Iran to send 1,100 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (around 70 per cent of its stockpile) to Russia in one batch by the end of the year.
Under the proposal, Russia would further enrich the uranium and send it to France to be converted into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in an aging reactor in Tehran designed for medical research.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, visiting Malaysia on Monday, called for a review of the plan but said Iran was not rejecting it outright.
Iran seeking fuel from other sources: official
Later Monday, however, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief representative to the IAEA, said the country wanted to be able to buy nuclear fuel from "any supplier."
"We are ready for the next round of technical discussions to make sure that our concerns … are taken into consideration," he said from Vienna.
Soltanieh's comments appear to support the assessment of Western diplomats that Tehran has rejected the main thrust of the UN-drafted deal and is offering its own counter-proposal.
International leaders expressed concern Monday the mixed signals were an effort by Iran to keep UN negotiations in play while continuing its program of nuclear enrichment.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Iran was losing time by prolonging talks.
"We are waiting for a reply. If the reply is aimed at delaying matters, as we believe, then we will not accept it," Kouchner said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran has already agreed to the deal in principle and "we are not altering it."
Clinton told reporters that Iran's acceptance of the deal would indicate that the country doesn't want to be isolated from the world community.
Addressing the UN General Assembly on Monday, ElBaradei said "a number of questions and allegations relevant to the nature" of Iran's program remained, and he called for confidence-building measures on all sides.
Concern over nuclear threat
Iran's pursuit of a national nuclear program has concerned Western leaders, who fear the country may be pursuing the program with the aim of building nuclear weapons. The Iranian government has insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The UN-drafted plan was agreed to during talks between diplomats from Iran, Russia, the U.S. and France, which were a followup to an Oct. 1 meeting in Geneva between those countries as well as Britain, Germany and China. During the Geneva talks Iran agreed to open a disputed enrichment site to UN inspections.
The six world powers had hoped the settlement would allow Iran to acquire the nuclear material it need for its reactor, while ensuring it would not be suitable for nuclear weapons.
Since the draft deal was worked out, officials in Tehran have given little indication that they will support it. Instead, Tehran has talked of holding onto its own uranium and buying fuel abroad to meet its reactor needs.
UN inspection completed
In a speech last Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted Tehran is seeking changes to the deal, including shipping abroad its low-enriched uranium in stages rather than all at once.
Iran is co-operating with the West, Ahmadinejad told a rally, but it "will not retreat even an iota" over the nation's right to pursue a nuclear program.
Last week a team of UN nuclear inspectors completed a visit to a previously secret Iranian uranium enrichment site and expressed satisfaction with the mission, but details have not been revealed.
What the inspectors saw — and how freely they were allowed to work — will be key in deciding whether the six world powers seek a new round of talks with Tehran.
The UN has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran for pursuing its program and failing to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency regulations, and the Western powers have mulled imposing a fourth set of sanctions, although Russia has said talk of further sanctions is premature.