TEHRAN, Iran - Iran would be willing to swap nuclear material with the West in Turkey, the foreign minister said in Iran's latest counteroffer to a U.N.-drafted deal aimed at thwarting its ability to produce atomic weapons.
The U.N. deal aims to reduce Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, to ease concerns that the country could build a nuclear weapon. Under the proposal, the uranium would be shipped to France and Russia in exchange for more highly enriched fuel rods that are not suitable for use in weapons.
Speaking on Iran's state TV, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki suggested Turkey, which abuts Iran and has good relations with the West, as a venue for exchanging nuclear material.
Iran "does not have a problem with Turkish soil" as the location for an exchange of enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, he said late Thursday.
In Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu welcomed the announcement. He said his government was ready to do its best to help reach a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
While Iran's remarks signaled a slight change in stance - it has said before that it would accept such an exchange only on its own territory - they mark no significant shift in Iran's policy.
The United States and its allies have demanded that Iran accept the U.N.-brokered deal without changes. Exporting the uranium would temporarily leave Iran without enough stockpiles to further enrich the uranium into material for a nuclear warhead, and the rods that are returned could not be used to make weapons.
Iran says it has no intention of building a bomb, maintaining that its nuclear program is for generating electricity.
At various times, Iran has proposed swapping material in batches - which would not necessarily reduce its ability to build a bomb. At other times, it has insisted on a simultaneous swap inside Iran, or threatened to just produce the fuel rods on its own.
The West must prove its goodwill intentions toward Tehran first, Mottaki said.
"Exchange is acceptable," he said. The West has "to do the trust-building, then it is pursuable."
Iran can produce the fuel on its own, Mottaki said, calling this a "preferable" option while adding that Iran is still ready for talks with the West.
"The ball is in their own court; they should answer us," he said. "Threat and sanctions are useless."
The United Nations has demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment. Tehran has refused, saying it has a right to develop the technology under the Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran has also defiantly announced that it intends to build 10 new uranium-enrichment sites, drawing a forceful rebuke from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
The United States and its allies have threatened to impose more sanctions on Iran if it does not cooperate.
Earlier this week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed a year-end deadline set by the Obama administration and the West for Tehran to accept the U.N.-drafted deal and shrugged off the threat of more sanctions.