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Iran leaves door open on nuclear deal

Associated Press / April 21, 2010

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TEHRAN — As the United States builds its case for stiffer sanctions against Iran, Tehran’s foreign minister appeared to voice new enthusiasm yesterday for a UN-backed nuclear fuel deal.

The United States and its allies are locked in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. They fear Iran is using the program to build nuclear arms. Iran says its program is only to generate electricity.

Iran initially rejected a 2009 United Nations-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods in exchange for Iran’s stock of lower-level enriched uranium. The swap would curb Iran’s capacity to make a nuclear bomb.

But at the same time, the country’s leaders have proposed variations, though without accepting the terms in the UN proposal. The move may aim to undermine support for sanctions in the UN Security Council, where the United States is lobbying heavily for Russian and Chinese backing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that if the West is serious about the nuclear swap, “the case can be a multilateral trust-making opportunity for all sides, including Iran. If the principle of exchange of fuel is a consensus, there is the possibility for an exchange of views, of understanding for mutual trust.’’

Mottaki’s comments were made a day after he said Iran wants direct talks with all the UN Security Council members, except one with which it would have indirect talks — a reference to the United States, which with Tehran has no relations.

Iran has made several counteroffers, including for a swap of less low-enriched uranium, sending it in batches, or carrying out a simultaneous trade. But the United States and its allies say the changes would obviate the goal of rendering Iran unable to build a warhead. In the meantime, Iran has pushed ahead with enriching uranium.