By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Iran "does not have a problem with Turkish soil" as the location for an exchange of enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state TV late Thursday.
It was the latest in several counteroffers by the Persian nation proposed in lieu of accepting a key UN-drafted deal, which aims to ease concerns Teheran could build a nuclear weapon by transferring most of the country's low-enriched uranium abroad.
In Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu welcomed the Iranian announcement and said his government is ready to do its best to help reach a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
While the remarks signaled a slight change in stance - Teheran has earlier said it would only accept such an exchange on its own territory - they represent no significant shift in Iranian policy.
The US and its allies have demanded Iran accept the terms of the UN-brokered plan as is, without changes. Under the plan, drafted last month, Iran would export its low-enriched uranium for further enrichment in Russia and France, where it would be converted into fuel rods. The rods, which Iran requires to power a research reactor in Teheran, would be returned to the country about a year later.
Exporting the uranium would temporarily leave Iran without sufficient stockpiles to further enrich the uranium into the material used in the production of a nuclear warhead. Iran says it has no intention of building a bomb, maintaining its program is aimed at generating electricity.
At various times, Iran has proposed swapping material in batches - which would not necessarily reduce its ability to build a bomb. At other times it has insisted on a simultaneous swap inside Iran, or threatened to just produce the fuel rods on its own.
The West needs to prove its goodwill intentions toward Teheran first, Mottaki said in the interview on state TV.
"Exchange is acceptable," he said. "They (the P5+1) have to do the trust-building, then it is pursuable."
Iran is able to produce the fuel on its own, Mottaki said, calling this a "preferable" option while adding that Iran is still ready for talks with the West.
"The ball in their own court, they should answer us," said Mottaki. "Threats and sanctions are useless."
Enrichment is at the core of the nuclear controversy. Low enriched uranium is used to fuel a nuclear energy reactor, but highly enriched uranium can be turned into a nuclear warhead. Once converted into rods, the uranium cannot be enriched further.
The UN has demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment, a demand Teheran has refused to accept, saying it has a right to develop the technology under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Iran has also defiantly announced its intention to build the 10 new uranium enrichment sites, drawing a forceful rebuke from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The US and its allies are threatening to impose more sanctions on Iran if it does not cooperate.
Earlier this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed a year-end deadline set by the Obama administration and the West for Teheran to accept the UN-drafted deal, and also shrugged off the threat of more sanctions.
Meanwhile on Thursday, top senators said that the US Senate was planning to move ahead with Iran-sanctions legislation soon after its recess ends in January.
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