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Iran makes new nuclear offer

Iran makes new nuclear offer

TEHRAN (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday Iran was ready to send its enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear fuel, and a U.S. official said Washington was prepared to listen if Iran was making a new offer to break an impasse over its disputed nuclear program.

The president appeared for the first time to drop long-standing conditions Tehran had set for accepting a U.N.-brokered proposal that the West hopes will stop enriched uranium being used to build atomic bombs in Iran.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has brokered the proposed plan under which Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, would send its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for more highly enriched fuel for a medical research reactor.

“We have no problem sending our enriched uranium abroad,” Ahmadinejad told state television.

“We say: we will give you our 3.5 percent enriched uranium and will get the fuel. It may take 4 to 5 months until we get the fuel.

“If we send our enriched uranium abroad and then they do not give us the 20 percent enriched fuel for our reactor, we are capable of producing it inside Iran,” he said.

In Washington, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “If Iran has something new to say, we are prepared to listen.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the uranium could be exchanged in Turkey, Brazil or Japan if agreement is reached.

Iran has faced intense Western pressure, under threat of new sanctions, to implement the plan and Ahmadinejad’s words came with both conciliatory international gestures and uncompromising moves to crack down on opposition protesters at home.

The president offered to swap three detained U.S. citizens charged with spying for jailed Iranians in the United States. At the same time, Iran said it would hang nine more rioters over unrest following a disputed presidential vote last June.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Iran’s leaders were “sowing the seeds of their own destruction” through their harsh crackdown on anti-government unrest.

Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian enrichment program that Tehran says will fuel a future network of nuclear power plants so it can export more oil and gas.

Ahmadinejad’s statement on the nuclear issue — on which Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word — was apparently the first time a top official had publicly accepted exchanging low-enriched uranium for nuclear medicine fuel off Iranian soil.

“We made a good faith and balanced offer regarding the Tehran research reactor,” White House spokesman Mike Hammer said in Washington. “We believe it makes sense for all parties. If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA.”

URANIUM TRANSFER

Mottaki and the IAEA said last week a deal on uranium enrichment was still possible, despite Western diplomats saying Tehran had in effect turned down the proposal.

Under the proposed deal Tehran would transfer 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for conversion into special fuel rods to keep the nuclear medicine reactor running.

The plan aims to reduce Iran’s reserves below the quantity needed for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, if the material were refined to a high degree of purity.

“For us the real matter is to reach an agreement about fuel exchange,” Mottaki said in an interview with Turkish television TRT. “If we can reach an agreement on the formula then we can talk about the place. About timing we can always talk. Turkey might be a place, Brazil or Japan might be a place.”

The United States and European allies are pursuing broader U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activity.

The United States, Britain, Germany and France seek a fourth round of U.N. measures against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment as demanded by five Security Council resolutions.

As well as outlining nuclear plans, Ahmadinejad said three U.S. citizens detained in Iran and charged with spying may be swapped with jailed Iranians in the United States.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington would welcome Iranian willingness to resolve the case.

“We do not like to have any person in jail. Some discussions are going on to swap the three with jailed Iranians in America,” Ahmadinejad told state television.

The three were detained after they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq at the end of July. Iran has said the three Americans would be put on trial, without giving a date.

CRACKDOWN ON OPPOSITION

Cracking down on internal dissent, Iran said it would soon hang nine more rioters over unrest that erupted after the June presidential vote. The opposition said the poll was rigged.

“Nine others will be hanged soon. The nine, and the two who were hanged on Thursday, were surely arrested in the recent riots and had links to anti-revolutionary groups,” said senior judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The two men hanged last week were among 11 people sentenced to death on charges including “waging war against God.”

The June election gave Ahmadinejad a second term, but sparked the worst internal crisis in the Islamic Republic’s history. The government denied any fraud in the voting.

Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, said the repression showed the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah “had not achieved its goals.”

“Filling the prisons and brutally killing protesters show that the root of … dictatorship remain from the monarchist era,” he said on his Kalemeh website.

Biden, speaking on MSNBC, indicated Washington was sticking to its dual track on Iran of diplomacy and sanctions.

“It’s time (for the United States) to reach out, demonstrate that we’re not the problem, the hand that gets rejected, and be able to have the whole world stay with us … against the Iranian government,” he said.

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Iran nuclear crisis: Sanctions ‘beginning to bite’

Iran nuclear crisis: Sanctions ‘beginning to bite’

The US has said threats by Iran to restrict Gulf shipping in the event of further sanctions shows international pressure is having an effect.

The State Department said sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear programme were starting to bite and that Iran was trying to create a distraction.

Iran has conducted 10 days of exercises near the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz, test-firing several missiles.

Its currency is at a record low, but it has denied sanctions are to blame.

The UN Security Council has already passed four rounds of sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment.

Highly enriched uranium can be processed into nuclear weapons, but Iran denies Western charges that it is trying to develop them.

Tehran says its programme is peaceful – it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity to meet growing domestic demand.The US has also sanctioned dozens of Iranian government agencies, officials and businesses over the nuclear programme.

The government in Tehran has dismissed the latest measures announced in the wake of a critical IAEA report in November.

US President Barack Obama signed into law the US bill targeting Iran’s central bank on Saturday. It enters into force in six months’ time.

Since then, however, the Iranian national currency, the rial, has lost about 12% of its value – trading at about 17,200-18,000 rials to $1.

Earlier on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for “stricter sanctions” and urged EU countries to follow the US in freezing Iranian central bank assets and imposing an embargo on oil exports.
‘Mock’ exercises

Speaking to journalists, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland said Tehran was feeling increasingly isolated because of the sanctions.

“Frankly we see these threats from Tehran as just increasing evidence that the international pressure is beginning to bite there and that they are feeling increasingly isolated and they are trying to divert the attention of their own public from the difficulties inside Iran, including the economic difficulties as a result of the sanctions,” she said.

Meanwhile Pentagon spokesman George Little responded to Iranian warnings to keep an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf, saying the Navy was operating within international law and had no plans to pull warships out of the region.Iran has been holding a series of naval exercises in the Gulf, and on Monday

said it had successfully test-fired a surface-to-sea Qader cruise missile, a shorter range Nasr and later, a surface-to-surface Nour missile.

A medium-range surface-to-air missile was successfully launched on Sunday, Iranian media reported.

Iran has conducted 10 days of exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s traded oil passes.

Tehran said on Monday that “mock” exercises on shutting the strait had been carried out, although there was no intention of closing it.

The BBC’s Iran correspondent James Reynolds says Iran is using the exercises to try to show that it owns the Gulf and has the military capability to defend against any threat to its dominance.

But, says our correspondent, few believe Iran would carry out its threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz as to do so would be considered too economically, politically and possibly militarily damaging for Tehran.

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