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Iran foreign minister says interested in modified nuclear fuel swap

Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday the Islamic Republic could reconsider a modified version of a nuclear fuel swap plan that it rejected last year. The plan would ship most of its nuclear fuel abroad.

By Staff writer / April 20, 2010

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, speaks during a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday. Mr. Mottaki has called a proposed nuclear fuel swap an opportunity to boost trust with the West.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

Iran is seeking to rekindle interest in a modified nuclear fuel deal to create “mutual trust” over its atomic program, nearly seven months after the UN-backed plan was first put to Tehran.

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Iran initially said it accepted the dea. But it then rejected it, when Tehran realized its purpose was to ensure that Iran no longer had enough enriched uranium at home, if enriched to higher levels, to build a bomb. Months later, Iran came up with a counterproposal that would involve shipping less enriched uranium out of the country at any given time.

Top US officials rejected Iran’s counter-offer out of hand and are now seeking to marshal diplomatic support for a fourth round of UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“If the West is serious about a fuel exchange deal, the case can be a multilateral trust-making opportunity for all sides, including Iran,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Tuesday. “If the principle of exchange of fuel is a consensus, there is the possibility for an exchange of views, of understanding for mutual trust.”

On Monday, Mr. Mottaki said that Iran would try to speak directly with all 15 members of the UNSC but one – the US. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit member Uganda on Friday.

Iran conference

The Iranian diplomatic moves come after a weekend nuclear conference in Tehran, during which Iran’s top unelected and elected authorities decried nuclear weapons and accused the West of hypocrisy for going after Iran but saying nothing of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Mr. Ahmadinejad said the US is the “world’s only atomic criminal.”

Turkey on Tuesday reiterated its offer to serve as a mediator during a visit by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Tehran.

“We will continue to try our best to see what we can do for this nuclear fuel swap,” said Mr. Davutoglu, adding that Turkey wanted to see a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear standoff. Months ago, Turkey offered to serve as a repository for Iran’s nuclear material as part of the swap, if required.

A NATO member aspiring to EU membership, Turkey is also friendly with Iran and has resisted US pressure to back more sanctions. “Turkey will do its part if Iranians deem fit,” Davutoglu said after meeting Mottaki.

Washington has said it might reconsider a deal, but appears to remain far apart from Iran on the key issue: the amount of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be removed from Iran in bulk. A US spokesman said this week that the amounts of LEU to be taken out of Iran would have to be “updated” to account for Iran’s continued uranium enrichment, though at a relatively slower pace than past years.

“We’re still interested in pursuing that offer if Iran is interested,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Monday. “At the heart of this was the proposal that Iran would ship out significant amounts of enriched fuel and there would be an exchange for a corresponding amount of fuel” for the Tehran reactor, Mr. Crowley said. “Iran has never agreed to that element of the offer.”

Iran needs fuel for a research reactor built by the US decades ago that produces medical isotopes. The original nuclear deal on Oct. 1 last year called for Iran to export some 70 percent (or 2,420 pounds) of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment to 20 percent, then shipment to France for fabrication into custom-made fuel rods.

Tehran, citing frustration over rejection of its compromise offers, which require the swap to take place on Iranian soil in smaller batches, began its own enrichment to 20 percent in early February. It claims it can make the difficult-to-produce fuel.

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