Iran FM hopeful for nuke fuel deal, no sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's foreign minister on Tuesday expressed optimism Tehran would soon strike a deal with the international community to provide his country with nuclear fuel — the latest in a new Iranian diplomatic push to stave off fresh U.N. sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.

As part of the push, top Iranian officials have been courting some non-permanent Security Council members to pre-empt possible sanctions.

Only permanent Council members could veto proposed sanctions, but strong opposition by non-permanent members could strengthen Iran's case.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks with Bosnian leaders Monday after making little progress in Austria over the weekend. And last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Uganda, another non-permanent member of the 15-nation Council.

On Tuesday, Mottaki held talks with visiting Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim.

"We are hopeful to see a fuel exchange go into operation in the near future," Mottaki said, adding that Brazil, also a non-permanent member, could play a more effective decision-making role in the Council.

The U.S. and its allies fear Iran's nuclear program aims to produce nuclear weapons, and are pushing for tougher sanctions in the Security Council over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment — a process that can lead to nuclear weapon making.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters Tuesday that the United States did not believe Mottaki's meeting with Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano changed the calculus of possible sanctions. She said that the U.S. did not believe Iran presented any new information.

"We still don't have anything other than an ongoing effort to influence public opinion," Clinton said.

The call for sanctions stepped up after Iran last year rejected a U.N.-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods to a Tehran reactor in exchange for Iran's stock of lower-level enriched uranium. The swap would have curbed Iran's capacity to make a nuclear bomb.

Under the U.N. proposal, Iran was to send 2,420 pounds (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium abroad, where it would be further enriched to 20 percent and converted into fuel rods, which would then be returned to Iran. Sending its low-enriched uranium abroad would leave Iran with insufficient stocks to enrich further to weapons-grade level.

Tehran needs the fuel rods to power a research reactor in the Iranian capital that makes nuclear isotopes needed for medical purposes. Once converted into rods, uranium can no longer be used for making weapons.

Iran, which denies any plan for making nuclear arms and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, has made several counteroffers to the West, including one to swap smaller batches of Iran's low-enriched uranium.

But the U.S. and its allies say the proposals obviate the goal of rendering Iran unable to build a nuclear-powered warhead.

Amorim said both Iran and the West should show more flexibility in efforts to find a peaceful solution. Iran should provide guarantee that its nuclear program has no military ambitions in return for enjoying its right to have peaceful nuclear technology, the Brazilian top diplomat said.

Separately, Amorim was quoted as saying in an interview with the official IRNA news agency that a swap between Iran and the West could take place in Brazil, if his country was asked to host the exchange.

"Such a proposal has not been offered to us so far," Amorim said, according to IRNA. "If we receive it, we consider it."


Associated Press Writer Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this report.