REUTERS - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday Iran was ready to send its enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear fuel under a plan the West hopes will stop the material being used for atomic bombs.
The U.N. nuclear agency has brokered a proposed deal under which Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, would send its low enriched uranium abroad in exchange for more highly enriched fuel to produce medical isotopes.
"We have no problem sending our enriched uranium abroad," Ahmadinejad told state television.
"We say: we will give you our 3.5 percent enriched uranium and will get the fuel. It may take 4 to 5 months until we get the fuel,"he said.
"If we send our enriched uranium abroad and then they do not give us the 20 percent enriched fuel for our reactor, we are capable of producing it inside Iran," he added.
Ahmadinejad's comments came after Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog said last week a deal on uranium enrichment was still possible, even though Western diplomats had said Tehran had effectively turned down the proposal.
Under the proposed deal Tehran would transfer 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for conversion into special fuel rods to keep the nuclear medicine reactor running.
The president spoke about nuclear plans on the same day Iran said it would soon hang nine more rioters over unrest that erupted after a disputed presidential vote in June last year. Opposition protesters said the poll was rigged.
"Nine others will be hanged soon. The nine, and the two who were hanged on Thursday, were surely arrested in the recent riots and had links to anti-revolutionary groups," said senior judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
The two men hanged last week were among 11 people sentenced to death on charges including "waging war against God".
The June election gave Ahmadinejad a second term, but sparked the worst internal crisis in the Islamic Republic's history. The government denied any fraud in the voting.
Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, said the repression showed the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah "had not achieved its goals".
"Filling the prisons and brutally killing protesters show that the root of ... dictatorship remain from the monarchist era," he said on his Kalemeh website.
In the United States, Vice President Joe Biden said Iran's leaders were "sowing the seeds of their own destruction" through their harsh crackdown on anti-government unrest.
"The people of Iran are thinking about, the very people marching, they're thinking about regime change," Biden told MSNBC when asked whether it was time for "regime change" in Iran since President Barack Obama's effort to engage the Islamic republic had failed to make progress.
Signalling Washington was sticking to its dual track of diplomacy and sanctions, Biden insisted: "It's time (for the United States) to reach out, demonstrate that we're not the problem, the hand that gets rejected, and be able to have the whole world stay with us ... against the Iranian government."
Ahmadinejad also said three U.S. citizens detained in Iran and charged with spying may be swapped with jailed Iranians in the United States.
"We do not like to have any person in jail. Some discussions are going on to swap the three with jailed Iranians in America," Ahmadinejad told state television. He did not clarify whether the discussions were held with U.S. officials.
The three were detained after they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq at the end of July, further complicating relations between Tehran and Washington that were already deadlocked over Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran has said that the three Americans would be put on trial, without giving a date.
The plan for Iran's low-enriched uranium aims to reduce Iran's reserves below the quantity needed for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, if the material were refined to a high degree of purity.
Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons ability under cover of a civilian enrichment programme that Tehran says will fuel a future network of nuclear power plants so it can export more of its abundant oil and gas. Iran denies this.
The United States and major European allies are pursuing broader U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its disputed nuclear activity.
The United States, Britain, Germany and France have called for a fourth round of U.N. measures against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment activities as demanded by five Security Council resolutions.