Iran warned on Saturday the West has until the end of the month to accept Tehran's counterproposal to a U.N.-drafted plan on a nuclear exchange, or they will start producing nuclear fuel on their own.
The warning from Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki showed a hardening in Iran's stance over its controversial nuclear program. While the West fears it shows Iran has nuclear ambitions, Tehran insists the program is only for peaceful, electricity production purposes.
The Iranian foreign minister's message was broadcast on Iranian TV.
He says that Iran gave [the West] an ultimatum, and they have one month left, giving them to the end of January [to accept]. He adds that [the West] must choose between one of the two proposals [that Iran has made], which is either to purchase uranium [directly from France or Russia] or to swap it [on Iranian soil]. Otherwise, he insists that Iran will go ahead and produce [high grade] enriched uranium fuel using its own talented experts.
Western powers, including the United States, have called on Tehran, under the draft U.N. nuclear deal worked out last November, to ship around 70 percent of its low-grade uranium abroad. That fuel would then be transformed into more highly enriched (20 percent grade) uranium and shipped back to Iran.
Iran, however, came up with a counterproposal insisting that its uranium stockpile be sent abroad in small batches, in quick transfers on Iranian soil, preferably on Iran's own Kish Island.
Iran's proposal is unacceptable to the West, because it allows Iran to keep significant quantities of enriched uranium to produce nuclear weapons.
Foreign Minister Mottaki's comments follow some of the worst violence to hit the country since June, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a disputed election.
Iran analyst Meir Javedanfar of the MEEPAS center in Tel Aviv argues that Mottaki is sending a message to tell his domestic audience that Tehran made an effort to reach a deal with the West, now that it appears the West could be preparing to impose sanctions:
"Mr. Mottaki is telling the West that Iran will not be dictated to, that the West is not going to set ultimatums for Iran. Mr. Mottaki's message will definitely have been approved by the Supreme leader of Iran, who's worried about internal repercussions of upcoming sanctions. With this move, Ayatollah Khamenei, through Mottaki, will want to tell the people of Iran that we tried to reach out to the Americans [and] that it was them that rejected us, so when sanctions are imposed, it is the Americans that are not interested in negotiations and they are the ones who caused [sanctions]," said Javedanfar.
Iran's nuclear energy agency head, Ali Akbar Salehi claimed last month that Tehran is planning to build ten new uranium enrichment plants the size of its Natanz enrichment facility. Some nuclear experts called the project "far-fetched," while the the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, rebuked Iran for making the declaration.