BEIRUT — The powerful speaker of Iran's parliament Saturday derided a Western-backed proposal to transfer the bulk of the country's enriched-uranium stockpile abroad as a trick meant to rob Iran of its nuclear fuel.
"My guess is that the Americans have made a secret deal with certain countries to take [low-]enriched uranium away from us under the pretext of providing nuclear fuel," Ali Larijani, who is close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the Iranian Students News Agency. "We hope Iranian officials will pay due attention to this issue."
Larijani, who once served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, is the highest-ranking official to explicitly question the plan, which would push Iran's enriched-uranium stockpile below the threshold necessary to make a single nuclear bomb.
Under the deal, which could serve as a template for a broader accord between Tehran and those harboring doubts about its nuclear program, Russia would further refine Iran's reactor-grade fuel.
Also Saturday, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, a conservative close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the head of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, expressed suspicions about the intentions of Iran's would-be partners in the plan.
"Is Iran concerned the countries that have suggested to supply the required fuel for the Tehran reactor would delay, postpone or cancel a possible contract?" Boroujerdi said. "These are the possibilities that we have to consider and be cautious about in our dealings with those countries."
The U.S., France and Russia signed off on the deal Friday, but Iran said it would respond by midweek.
Iran's stockpile of 3.5%-enriched uranium is sufficient to fuel an energy plant but must be further refined to 20% before it can be used to produce isotopes for cancer diagnosis and treatment at a Tehran medical reactor. Uranium needs to be enriched to 90% or above for a weapon.
Boroujerdi said Iran would prefer to keep its reactor-grade uranium for its own purposes. "It would be better for us to purchase the 20% fuel and keep our 3.5% fuel to supply our domestic power plants," he told the Iranian Students News Agency.