TEHRAN - Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency will present Tehran's position on a draft nuclear fuel deal in Vienna on Thursday, a semi-official Iranian news agency reported on Wednesday.
Mehr News Agency said Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh would personally give Iran's response to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on the proposal for Iran to send most of its enriched uranium abroad.
Echoing a report by Iranian state television on Tuesday, Mehr said Iran would accept the framework of the agreement but also propose changes, a move that could unravel the plan and expose Tehran to the threat of harsher sanctions.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, did not directly confirm the Mehr report but said Soltanieh left Tehran for Vienna early on Wednesday.
He will meet with Mr. ElBaradei at the first appropriate opportunity and present what he received in Tehran, Salehi told Reuters.
Under the draft deal hammered out by ElBaradei earlier this month after talks in Vienna with Iran, the United States, France and Russia, Iran would send low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for further processing and eventual use in a research reactor.
The draft pact calls for Iran to transfer about 75 percent of its known 1.5 tonnes of LEU to Russia for further enrichment by the end of this year, then to France for conversion into fuel plates. These would be returned to Tehran to power a research reactor that produces radio-isotopes for cancer treatment.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only for power plant fuel, not for nuclear warheads. But its history of nuclear secrecy and continued restrictions on U.N. inspections have raised Western suspicions Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
Iran's ISNA news agency quoted a senior lawmaker, Mohammad Karamirad, as also saying Iran would present its position on the fuel plan on Thursday.
Senior lawmakers have said Iran should import foreign nuclear fuel rather than send abroad by the end of this year much of its own LEU stock -- a crucial strategic asset in talks with world powers -- as the proposal stipulates.
State television said on Tuesday Iran opposed sending its uranium stockpile abroad in one go.
According to an informed source in Vienna, Iran in its final response to the agency, while accepting the framework, will propose changes, Mehr said in its report on Wednesday.
The European Union's foreign policy chief said on Tuesday there was no need to rework the U.N. draft and he and France's foreign minister suggested Tehran would rekindle demands for tougher international sanctions if it tried to undo the plan.
But the Kremlin's top foreign policy aide said on Wednesday sanctions against Iran were highly unlikely in the near future, Interfax news agency reported.
Sanctions in relation to Iran are hardly possible in the near future, Kremlin foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said.
Understandings on the fuel plan and U.N. monitoring of a newly disclosed enrichment site under construction were forged at Geneva talks on October 1 between Iran and six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.
Iran's pledges in Geneva won a reprieve from sanctions targeting its oil sector but Western powers stressed they would not wait indefinitely for Tehran to follow through.
Senior Iranian MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi said U.N. experts who arrived in Iran early on Sunday to inspect the new enrichment site about 160 km (100 miles) south of Tehran had left the country, ISNA reported, without giving details.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA in Vienna, but a diplomat close to the IAEA said the inspectors would return to Vienna on Thursday.
(Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Janet Lawrence)