TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said on Tuesday it was ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment as requested by the U.N.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the decision in an interview with state Iranian television.
He said Iran will have "no problem" giving the West its low-enriched uranium and taking it back several months later when it is enriched by 20 percent.
The decision could signal a major shift in the Iranian position on the issue.
Still, it was unclear how much of a concession the Ahmadinejad comments represented, even though he appeared to be saying for the first time that Iran was willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to be returned in the form of fuel for its Tehran research reactor.
But his time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran's enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor.
If that difference cannot be bridged, it could allow Iranian officials to assert that the deal failed due to Western foot-dragging, despite their readiness to accept the proposed formula of shipping out the bulk of their enriched uranium and waiting for it to be converted and returned as fuel.
Ahmadinejad also did not address whether his country was ready to ship out most of its stockpile in one batch -- another condition set by the six world powers endorsing the fuel swap.
If Iran were to agree to export most of its enriched uranium in one shipment, it would delay its ability to make a nuclear weapon by stripping it of the mateove forward from there."
The foreign ministries of Britain, France and Germany said they had no immediate comment.
In Tuesday's interview, Ahmadinejad repeated his wish to see the West build nuclear power plants in his country. "They want to cooperate? OK, we cooperate. We do not have any problem. Let them build 20 nuclear power plants. Is there a problem? Russia, France and the U.S., come and build."
Iran is building with Russia's help its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. The plant is scheduled to be inaugurated later this year.
The United States and its Western allies have been pushing for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions to be slapped on Iran over its disputed nuclear program. But with Russia, and especially China, skeptical of any new U.N. penalties, they have to tread carefully to maintain six power unity on how to deal with the Islamic Republic.
International concerns include Iran's refusal to heed U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze its enrichment program; fears that it may be hiding more nuclear facilities after its belated revelations that it was building a secret fortified enrichment plant, and its stonewalling of an IAEA probe of alleged programs geared to developing nuclear arms.