May 28, 2010 / 3:57 PM / 9 years ago

Iran upbeat on fuel plan despite West's skepticism

SOFIA (Reuters) - Iran’s foreign minister said on Friday he believed major powers were considering a proposed nuclear fuel swap positively, despite Washington’s condemnation of the move as a ploy by Tehran to avoid new sanctions.

Manouchehr Mottaki said the fuel exchange plan hammered out by Iran, Turkey and Brazil earlier this month would help build confidence and foster cooperation, instead of confrontation over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program.

He told reporters in Sofia he had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the phone Thursday, a day after Tehran and Moscow clashed over Kremlin support for draft U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“We have discussed on this issue (the fuel exchange) and to my understanding I think the Vienna Group are considering (it) positively,” Mottaki said, referring to Russia, France and the United States.

Moscow, Paris and Washington agreed to a similar plan brokered by the U.N. nuclear agency in October.

But Iran raised objections at the time and Western powers now say its continued stockpiling of enriched uranium devalued the deal to give up some of its potential nuclear bomb material, signaling Tehran would not evade more sanctions this way.

Under the plan agreed with Turkey and Brazil, Iran would send 1.2 metric tons of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey for safekeeping until Tehran received specially processed fuel for its medical isotope reactor around a year later.

Lavrov told reporters Thursday Iran had repeatedly ignored Moscow’s efforts to resolve the crisis over the Islamic state’s nuclear program. But he also said the fuel swap would be an important breakthrough if implemented.

U.S. “TRAP”

Western critics said the accord would still leave Iran with enough material for one bomb, if enriched to high purity.

Iran says its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China which have previously resisted such international action, have agreed on a draft resolution to impose new sanctions on Tehran.

Mottaki, who was attending an economic forum in Sofia, said U.N. sanctions were a “failed” policy. “Moving in that direction is against the Tehran declaration,” he said, referring to the fuel exchange agreement between Iran, Turkey and Brazil.

“Iran has announced its commitment to implement this declaration and the Vienna Group can start their negotiation after their response to (the head of the U.N. nuclear agency) and then the procedure for exchanging fuel will take place.”

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili spoke to Kremlin Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev Thursday, Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency reported Friday.

Jalili said “mutual interests and threats require that the two countries have friendly ties in different fields,” it said.

But an Iranian lawmaker, Esmail Kosari, said Russian officials had once again fallen into America’s “trap” by supporting the United States instead of Iran.

Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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