By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that some countries had offered to provide Iran with uranium enriched to 20 percent for use as nuclear reactor fuel, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Iran has always insisted on its right to carry out its own enrichment of uranium for a nuclear program which it says is for purely peaceful purposes, mainly to generate electricity. It rejects Western suspicions its real aim is to build an atomic bomb, which would require uranium enriched to around 90 percent.
“There have been some proposals by individual countries and groups of countries. We are ready to hold talks with anyone interested. Our experts will soon start talks with those sellers,” Ahmadinejad said.
He said Iran could also buy nuclear fuel from the United States, its old enemy. “We want to buy fuel. We can buy it from anywhere and America can be a seller,” ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.
Uranium enrichment is at the heart of a long standoff between Iran and the West, which took a new twist last month when Tehran disclosed the existence of a previously secret underground enrichment plant near the holy Shi’ite city of Qom.
Diplomats say it did so after learning Western intelligence services had discovered the site.
Russia stepped into the debate on Wednesday, urging countries not to jump to hasty conclusions about the newly revealed plant and saying Iran was showing signs of cooperation with inspectors.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry complained of media speculation surrounding activities at the site. “We are convinced that hasty conclusions on this score will not benefit the objective assessment of the situation,” it said in a statement.
Western concerns center on the possibility that Iran could accumulate supplies of enriched uranium and divert them from its civilian program in order to built a nuclear warhead.
To address this, Western diplomats say Iran agreed in principle at talks last week in Geneva to send about 80 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing. It would then be returned to Tehran to replenish dwindling fuel stocks for a reactor in the capital that produces isotopes for cancer care.
Ahmadinejad made no mention of Iran sending its uranium abroad for further enrichment. So far no purchasing agreement had been finalized, he said.
“Representatives of some countries have said that France is ready to provide nuclear fuel for the Tehran reactor … they (France) should officially propose it, then we will review it,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted the president as saying.
IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying last week’s talks with six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — in Geneva “were constructive and a positive step forward.”
The talks are expected to win Iran a reprieve from tougher U.N. sanctions, although Western powers are likely to be wary of any attempt by Tehran to buy time to develop its nuclear program.
Iran also agreed with the six powers in Geneva to allow access for inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the newly disclosed nuclear site at Qom.
Subsequent talks with IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in Tehran on October 3 and 4 sent out a positive signal from Tehran, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“We see this as an instance of practical implementation of the agreements on strong cooperation between Iran and the IAEA in clarifying the circumstances of the construction,” it said.
World powers at the next round of talks aim to press Iran for a freeze on expansion of enrichment as an interim step toward a suspension that would bring it major trade rewards. Iran has repeatedly rejected such demands.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Conor Sweeney in Moscow; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Mark Trevelyan)