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Affirming Iran's Enrichment "Right" Could Prompt Uranium Curbs: Salehi

Iran could agree to restrict its uranium refinement effort in return for international acknowledgement that the operation is legal, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Der Spiegel magazine last week.

Tehran has defended the enrichment initiative -- which can purify uranium for nonmilitary operations as well as atomic weapons -- as a strictly peaceful endeavor permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United States, Israel and a number of European countries suspect the Iranian operation is geared toward manufacturing bomb material and have pressed for its full suspension.

"If our right to enrichment is recognized, we are prepared to offer an exchange," Salehi said in an Oct. 4 interview. "We would voluntarily limit the extent of our enrichment program, but in return we would need a guaranteed supply of the relevant fuels from abroad."

Iran in 2010 ruled out sending stockpiled higher-enriched uranium to other countries under a potential expanded version of a fuel-swap plan developed in 2009 by the International Atomic Energy Agency. France, Russia and the United States expressed concerns about an alternative plan prepared in 2010 by Iran, Turkey and Brazil.

Salehi at an earlier point in the interview defended his country's refusal to permit an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of the Parchin armed forces installation. The U.N. nuclear watchdog believes the Iranian facility might have hosted a tank for performing bomb-relevant combustion studies.

"We have to differentiate between two things here: First, we have our obligations under the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty, which we are fulfilling," the top Iranian diplomat said. "Second, there are demands that go beyond this, and that we are not obliged to meet, such as those relating to a military complex like Parchin."

The foreign minister brushed off IAEA fears of a possible effort to conceal incriminating material at the facility. "Nuclear research leaves fingerprints that can never be totally eliminated," he said.

"I do not want to rule out that we may find a way to open Parchin -- on a voluntary basis, as we have done on other occasions in the past," Salehi added.

U.N. nuclear watchdog Director General Yukiya Amano is not scheduled to travel to Iran for an additional session to address potential weapon-related experimentation in the country, an agency spokesman said on Wednesday. Salehi said plans were in place for such an appearance, Reuters quoted the foreign minister's website as saying. The information provided no details on the possible event's timing.

Separately, Salehi played down the impact of an increasingly severe regime of economic penalties aimed at pressuring Tehran to address global fears over its atomic activities.

"The sanctions create inconveniences. For over 30 years now, we have been living with boycott measures that ultimately make us independent and strong," he said.

A measure signed by President Obama enables execution of a punitive U.S. law enacted against Iran in August, the Associated Press reported.

The Tuesday move "is part of our comprehensive sanctions effort to apply pressure on the Iranian government to meet its international obligations with regard to its nuclear program," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in prepared remarks. "This sanctions effort has produced profound and demonstrable results."

The legislation is designed to target entities for lending money to Tehran or acquiring Iranian bonds, as well as for providing shipment support or other backing to the government's operations involving petroleum or oil-derived products, AP reported.

A potential U.S. step to curb Iranian natural gas sales would produce only minor effects in the global energy trade, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in an assessment quoted by Reuters.

Iran's supreme religious leader railed on Wednesday against global atomic penalties targeting his nation, Agence France-Presse reported.

"These sanctions are barbaric," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. "This is a war against a nation. ... But the Iranian nation will defeat them."

Certain "problems" stemming from the punitive economic regime have intensified as a result of "mismanagement," Khamenei said without providing details. The value of the nation's currency recently tumbled by 40 percent.

"This is not an issue that [Iran] cannot resolve. With the grace of God, the Iranian nation will overcome all these problems," the leader added.

"The enemies -- the U.S. and some European governments -- are nowadays linking the sanctions to (Iran's pursuit) of nuclear energy. They are lying," he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added: "Right now in terms of the budget we are under pressure."

"In many places the budget has become zero or has been cut by 25 percent," the Iranian Students' News Agency quoted him as saying. The published remarks included no further information, according to Reuters.

A new International Monetary Fund analysis became the basis for a Tuesday bid by Tehran to play down the effects of economic penalties imposed by Western powers, the New York Times reported. Tehran says the assessment shows that inflation will drop next year and the nation's economy will grow stronger.

Israel has collected intelligence data in support of IAEA findings that Iran devoted a significant quantity of atomic material to nonmilitary applications, defense insiders told Haaretz in remarks reported on Tuesday. The findings supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to delay until next year a final date for potentially employing armed force against Iranian atomic installations, according to the newspaper.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday called for the elimination of any "daylight between the United States and Israel" over how to handle the Iranian nuclear standoff.

"We share values, and we're both absolutely committed to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon," he told CNN. "My own test is that Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. I think that's the same test that Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply."

That statement would also line up with the Obama administration's position on the long-running atomic impasse.

"Let's also recognize that we have a long way to go before military action may be necessary," Romney added. "And hopefully it's never necessary. Hopefully, through extremely tight sanctions, as well as diplomatic action, we can prevent Iran from taking a course which would lead to them crossing that line."

"We have Israel's back, both at the U.N. but also militarily," AFP quoted Romney as saying. "I would anticipate that if I'm president, the actions of Israel would not come as a surprise to me."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday said his nation would not "automatically" join a potential armed action initiated against Iran by the United States, the Press Association reported.

"We decide our own foreign policy and our own defense policy, so we are not automatically involved in anything -- other than the circumstances of an attack on NATO and the NATO treaty being invoked, when of course we are automatically involved," he said.

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