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Iran ready to agree nuclear fuel deal

Minister tells regional security summit in Manama that Tehran will swap enriched uranium for rods.

MANAMA // Iran is ready to exchange the bulk of its stockpile of enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods, as proposed by the United Nations, the country's foreign minister said at a regional security summit yesterday. Manouchehr Mottaki also renewed calls for the region's nations to boost security through dialogue.

Mr Mottaki told the opening session of the Manama Dialogue security summit that Iran agreed "in principle" to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) proposal to swap 1,200kg of enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, but accused the West of not taking seriously Tehran's demands for a simultaneous exchange mechanism. He proposed that Tehran swap 400 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel in an exchange on Kish island in the Arabian Gulf as the first phase of a deal with world powers, adding that the process could begin "right away" if the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany agreed to the offer.

"We are prepared to take 400kg of 3.5 per cent enriched uranium to the island of Kish and exchange it" for the equivalent in 20 per cent enriched uranium, he said. Uranium enriched at low levels can be used as fuel for nuclear energy, but when enriched to 90 per cent and above, it can be used as material for a weapon. The US and five other world powers have been trying to win Iran's acceptance of a deal under which Tehran would ship most of its low-enriched uranium stockpile abroad to be processed into fuel rods.

The foreign minister added that any new sanctions against Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme "will have no impact" and that the Islamic republic would need up to 15 nuclear plants to cover the country's domestic electricity needs over the next two decades. Mr Mottaki also called for increased pressure on Israel to disarm it from its nuclear weapons. The foreign minister's position of blaming the West for the failed nuclear exchange talks received the unexpected backing of Bahrain, a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) member and a major US ally in the region, when Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa, said it was "unfair" to impose sanctions on Iran.

"The main reason the P5-plus-one talks failed was because they did not include the countries of the region in that dialogue, we - meaning the Gulf states - tried to get ourselves in these talks so we can help and voice our concerns," Mr al Khalifa said during the same opening session. "I think we should give the talks another chance and redo them with involvement from the region." Mr Mottaki also renewed Tehran's call for a collective regional approach to achieving security in the region and denied any role in the ongoing civil war in northern Yemen that has spilt into Saudi Arabia creating widespread concern among the six Gulf states who will meet later this week in Kuwait.

"Iran believes that the solution to the issue of Yemen could only come from dialogue and not resorting to violence," he said. @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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