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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 says needs guarantees to send uranium abroad

INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-NUCLEAR-FUEL

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, south of Tehran, April 9, 2007.

Iran says needs guarantees to send uranium abroad

TEHRAN, Nov. 24, 2009 (Reuters) — Iran could consider sending its low-enriched uranium abroad, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, apparently softening its opposition to a U.N. plan aimed at keeping a check on its nuclear ambitions.

Last week Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki rejected a U.N.-drafted deal that would see Iran ship low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for reprocessing, saying this could only be swapped simultaneously on Iranian soil for fuel for nuclear medicine.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday that Iran was not opposed to sending LEU abroad as long as it had “100 percent guarantees” it would receive refined fuel in return, for use in a medical research reactor.

“Regarding the guarantees we are not going to suggest anything, but one … could be exchanging it on Iranian soil,” Mehmanparast told a news conference.

Any fuel swap in Iran would likely be a non-starter for Western powers, which want to delay Tehran’s potential to make a nuclear bomb by reducing its LEU stockpile. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Iran’s top nuclear official said it was up to world powers to find a guarantee that would satisfy Iran.

“The only way is that the West should give us a 100 percent guarantee to make this deal doable. The guarantee should be agreed by Iran,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told Reuters when asked whether Iran’s condition was to do a nuclear transaction only on its territory.

Six world powers urged Tehran on Friday to accept the proposal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). U.S. President Barack Obama has warned of more sanctions on Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer.

POWERS DRAFT RESOLUTION

The powers, increasingly concerned over Iran’s failure to be more open about its plans — underlined by its belated disclosure of a second enrichment site — have drafted a resolution on Iran to discuss at an IAEA meeting later this week, diplomats said on Tuesday.

The draft calls on Iran to open up fully to U.N. nuclear inspectors and investigators, clarify the origins and purpose of the hidden enrichment site and confirm it has no more undeclared nuclear plans, the diplomats told Reuters.

Russia and China, who have often blocked a tougher stance on Iran by the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors in the past, are fully behind the text along with the United States, Britain, France and Germany, they said.

With Russian and Chinese backing, the measure has a better chance of winning majority support including developing nations on the board in a vote in Vienna on Thursday or Friday.

If passed, it would be the first IAEA resolution targeting Iran since February 2006, when the governors referred Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for defying the agency’s requests that it suspend enrichment and open up completely to IAEA probes.

The draft fuel deal calls on Iran to send some 75 percent of its LEU to Russia and France, where it would be turned into fuel for the Tehran reactor, which produces radio-isotopes for cancer treatment but is due to run out of its imported fuel next year.

Western officials say Iran accepted the plan in principle last month, and they suspect that in demanding changes, Tehran is trying to buy time and avert more sanctions, while pressing ahead with nuclear enrichment activity.

Some analysts say hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favours the fuel deal as a way to shore up his legitimacy after his disputed re-election in June, but that domestic rivals are trying to undermine him by criticizing the proposal.

“Nobody in Iran ever said that we are against sending 3.5 percent (LEU) abroad. We talked about the process of dispatching fuel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mehmanparast said.

“If we say we are looking for 100 percent guarantees, it means that we want 3.5 percent-enriched uranium to be sent out under such circumstances that we make sure that we will receive” fuel enriched to 20 percent purity for the reactor.

Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili echoed the demand for “objective guarantees” on Arabic-language al Alam television.

“It is a commercial issue. Iran has asked the (IAEA) to provide it for Iran,” he said. “If they can’t provide fuel in time … we have other options to get fuel.”

Western powers agree that Iran has the right to develop a civilian nuclear program, but want enrichment limits and stronger IAEA inspections to ensure it does not try to enrich uranium to the 90 percent level needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran says its aim is only to generate electricity.

The United States has rejected Iranian calls for amendments and further talks on the deal. Obama has said time is running out for diplomacy to resolve the long-running nuclear standoff.

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