The U.S., Russia and France on Wednesday dismissed a proposal by Iran to swap some of its enriched uranium for reactor fuel hours before an expected U.N. Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran, diplomats said.
The three diplomats familiar with the replies said they contain a series of questions that in effect stall any negotiations on the issue — and generally diminish any chance of talks because they present Tehran with indirect demands that it is not ready to meet.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed receipt of the three-nation response and said it would be passed on to Tehran.
The U.S., Russia and France have said that — unlike the original plan drawn up eight months ago — the swap proposal negotiated by Brazil and Turkey would leave Iran with enough material to make a nuclear weapon. And they note that Iran intends to continue a new program of enriching uranium to a higher level.
The reply by the three nations was confidential. But Glyn Davies, the U.S. chief representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, appeared to outline those U.S., French and Russian problems with it in comments to a 35-nation meeting of the IAEA board.
Beyond that, he said Iran appeared "determined to defy and to obfuscate" international attempts to probe its nuclear program for suspected attempt to make nuclear weapons.
"The fundamental issue remains: Is Iran willing to met its international nonproliferation obligations, build international confidence, and enable the IAEA to provide assurances as to the peaceful nature of its nuclear program?" he said in comments to the closed session made available to reporters. "The (IAEA) director general has told us that Iran is preventing the IAEA from doing so."
A European Union statement also criticized Iran for stonewalling attempts to probe its nuclear activities and refusing to heed U.N. Security Council demands for a freeze on enrichment, which can make both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material.
Speaking on behalf of Europe's big powers — Germany, Britain and France — Ruediger Ludeking, Germany's chief IAEA delegate, separately told The Associated Press that Iran was "continuing on the path of confrontation and noncompliance" with U.N. Security Council demands.
But his Iranian counterpart, Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the meeting that "illegal resolutions" by the council will not stop his country from exercising its "legitimate right to develop its nuclear program.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday called the proposed new U.N. sanctions against Iran's suspect nuclear program the toughest ever, telling reporters in Ecuador's capital that there is strong support for a fourth resolution penalizing Iran for its refusal to prove its nuclear program is peaceful and defying international demands to halt uranium enrichment.
"I think it is fair (to say) that these are the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced," Clinton said at a news conference with Ecuador's president. "The amount of unity that has been engendered by the international community is very significant."
She declined to predict the outcome of the vote in the 15-member Security Council, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in London said the measure would pass and pave the way for tougher additional measures by the U.S. and its allies.
"The strategy here is a combination of diplomacy and pressure to persuade the Iranians that they are headed in the wrong direction in terms of their own security, that they will undermine their security by pursuit of nuclear weapons, not enhance it," Gates said.
In the final version of the U.N. resolution, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, sanctions would be tougher than previous penalties but still far short of crippling economic punishments or an oil embargo.
The sanctions would ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining, and prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles.
Annexes to the resolution, agreed to Tuesday, would target 40 new Iranian companies or organizations, including 15 linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard.
One person was added to the previous list of 40 Iranians subject to an asset freeze, Javad Rahiqi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran's Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center.
The sanctions list also includes 22 companies or organizations involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and three entities linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. If the resolution is approved, the number of entities under sanctions would more than double from 35 at present to 75.