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The Obama administration signaled impatience with Iran after the Tehran government ignored a Friday deadline to respond to a U.N.-brokered deal aimed at easing concerns over its nuclear program. Iran has promised a reply by next week.
U.S. officials say they're willing to wait a few more days for an Iranian response to the nuclear proposals, but they say the Obama administration is looking for concrete action and does not have unlimited patience.
The comments from the State Department came after Iran failed to provide a final response Friday to a proposal brokered by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency under which Tehran would ship abroad much of the low-enriched uranium it has produced in an enrichment effort that has drawn international concern.
Under the scheme, Russia would further enrich the uranium to the 20 per cent purity needed for use in a research reactor in Tehran which produces medical isotopes but is running out of fuel.
The fact that if Tehran surrendered most of the uranium it has been processing at its Natanz enrichment facility it would ease worries that its effort is weapons related.
Though Iran was to respond by Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran told it that while it was considering the plan in a favorable light it needed until the middle of next week to make a decision.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States would obviously have liked to see an Iranian reply but is willing to give Tehran a few more days. "We're looking for concrete steps. And we take it as a positive sign that they've agreed in principle to take a couple of significant steps - the opening of the Qom facility, and then working out a procedure for having their low-enriched uranium re-processed in another country. At the same time, our patience is not limitless. I think we can stretch things out a few days, and that's really what we're talking about. But we're not going to wait forever," he said.
Kelly said preparations have been made for a visit Sunday by IAEA inspectors to the partially-underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom that Iran recently acknowledged it has been secretly building.
Kelly said the results of the inspection of the Qom plant, and Tehran's final decision on the uranium export plan, will figure heavily in big-power discussions on whether to seek further punitive action against Iran over its nuclear program.
Senior diplomats of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany - the P-Five-plus-One - are to meet at the end of this month in Geneva with Iran's nuclear negotiator to review Tehran's overall response to their offer of incentives for it to curb enrichment and return to negotiations.
Officials have said the plan for Iran to export uranium for processing abroad under safeguards for its medical reactor could be a model for a broader deal to resolve concerns that its nominally-peaceful program is weapons-related.
The other parties to the medical reactor plan, Russia, France and the United States, told the International Atomic Energy Agency Friday they had accepted the proposal.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the signals about the Iranian position on the deal are not so positive and that could negatively affect the upcoming P5+1 meeting in Geneva.