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Iran Will Hand Over Spent Fuel, Says Ambassador

May 4, 1995

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Spent fuel from Iran’s Russian-made reactors, potential raw material for nuclear bombs, will be returned to Russia for safeguarding, an Iranian nuclear official said Thursday.

The transfer would meet one of Washington’s objections to the Moscow-Tehran deal.

``We don’t have any use for it,″ Mohammad Sadegh Ayatollahi said of the plutonium-laden byproduct of nuclear power production.

Ayatollahi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, also denied reports by U.S. officials that his country is seeking gas centrifuges from Russia, equipment that could enrich uranium to levels usable for nuclear weapons.

The Vienna, Austria-based diplomat is here for a month-long global conference to extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 25-year-old pact designed to halt the spread of atomic weapons.

The U.S. government, contending Iran harbors secret intentions to produce nuclear weapons, has pressured Russia to scrap its $800 million deal, signed in January, to complete an Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf. President Clinton cited Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions last Sunday when he announced a U.S. trade embargo against Iran.

The Iranians counter that U.S. interference violates Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which guarantees signatory nations the right to energy technology.

A draft of the conference’s final document will underline that guarantee, reaffirming ``the inalienable right of countries to have access to nuclear technology and material for peaceful uses,″ conference President Jayantha Dhanapala said Thursday.

The Clinton administration has raised various objections at various times to the Russia-Iran deal.

Early this year, Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch indicated the disposition of the Bushehr plant’s spent fuel was a prime concern. Independent specialists also warned of the dangers of leaving Russian-supplied uranium rods in Iran once they are used, since they could be reprocessed _ if Iran obtained the proper equipment _ to produce plutonium for weapons.

Russia’s atomic power minister, Viktor N. Mikhailov, told The Associated Press in February the issue remained unresolved. But Ayatollahi said Thursday his government has made its decision.

``It is the position of Iran to send the spent fuel to the suppliers,″ he said. ``For two reasons: First, we don’t have any use for it. And second, it requires a lot of work for waste management.″

He said such an agreement would be worked out before completion of the power plant, not expected for several years.

In Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Thursday the return of spent fuel to Russia would be welcome, but ``we think the entire nuclear reactor program should be brought to an end.″

American officials object to any assistance for Iran’s nuclear program, including plans to train Iranian specialists.

Ayatollahi said up to 40 Iranian nuclear engineers and physicists have been trained in Russian institutes since last summer, under the aegis of the IAEA. He said their training relates to peaceful uses of nuclear power.

The Iranian ambassador, a U.S.-educated engineer, complained that statements by Washington officials about Russian plans to send gas centrifuges to Iran are ``not fair, not correct.″

``There has not been any agreement written for the gas centrifuge and things like that,″ he said. ``... There hasn’t been any request by Iran for the gas centrifuge.″

Gas centrifuges are used to raise the proportion of fissionable uranium-235 in nuclear fuel to the 4 or 5 percent level usable in reactors. If prolonged, the process could produce the 90-percent-enriched uranium needed for atom bombs.

The State Department said Tuesday that Russia has agreed to reconsider the proposed sale of centrifuge equipment described by Washington. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Grigory Karasin, said in Moscow on Thursday that such a sale was still being debated.

``Discussions are under way about the centrifuge,″ he said.

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