BEIRUT — Iran's president on Wednesday called for international cooperation on nuclear technology in a prime-time television appearance filled with conciliatory language toward the world community, in stark contrast with the dismissive tone of other senior Iranian officials toward a United Nations-backed proposal.
Although President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not directly mention a U.S.-endorsed International Atomic Energy Agency plan in which Iran would trade the bulk of its enriched uranium for fuel to operate a Tehran medical reactor, he said Iran was confident and powerful enough to begin working with other countries and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency to expand the country's nuclear program.
"Today, Iran's nuclear conditions are stabilized and we've entered the phase of nuclear interaction and cooperation, and today an important issue is international nuclear cooperation in construction of nuclear power plants, reactors and even Iran's contribution to a world fuel bank," he said. "We have the necessary technology and material . . . but there is always quid pro quo, cooperation and investment."
The Obama administration, its European allies and international arms control authorities await a definitive response from Iran on whether it would send about 70% of its enriched uranium supply to Russia and France to be further refined and turned into rods for the medical reactor. The deal would temporarily allay international concerns that Iran could make a sprint toward developing a nuclear weapon, and possibly would set the stage for a broader compromise.
Ahmadinejad, who seeks to bolster his international credibility and domestic popularity in the wake of his disputed reelection in June and the ensuing civic unrest, does not have the final say on the nuclear issue. But he, his allies and appointees have significant influence over the powerful Supreme National Security Council, which is headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad's speech and tone Wednesday suggested that a deal is still possible. Powerful Iranian officials and even Ahmadinejad's reformist adversaries have derided the fuel swap idea as being against national interests in what appears to be an internal debate over whether to accept, reject or attempt to modify the proposal.
Senior officials and leaders of Russia, Qatar and Turkey, all countries that maintain strong relations with Iran as well as the West, have met with Iranian counterparts in possible attempts to coax Tehran into cooperating.
Ahmadinejad said it was time for Iran to lock in its nuclear gains.
"Freezing our nuclear program is no longer on the table," he said. "We have reached a point to cooperate with nuclear powers through the International Atomic Energy Agency," the U.N.'s watchdog.