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Iran Says Could Swap Nuclear Fuel Inside Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has said it is willing to swap low-grade for high-grade uranium but that the nuclear fuel exchange under a UN-brokered plan must be carried out on its own territory.

The United States and its allies hope to get new United Nations sanctions imposed on Iran in the coming weeks over its continued enrichment work, after failing to reach an agreement with Tehran on Western countries giving Iran enriched uranium in return for Iranian low-grade uranium, but outside Iran.

Western countries fear Iran wants to stockpile uranium to enrich it to levels that could be used for nuclear weapons. Iran says its sole aim is to run nuclear energy plants to generate more electricity.

"In order to bring about a constructive interaction, we have declared our readiness for fuel swap, provided it is done within the country [Iran]," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

"We are prepared for a fuel swap even though we do not regard this condition of supplying fuel to the Tehran research reactor through a swap as correct."

Iran said on February 22 that it had earmarked potential sites for 10 new nuclear enrichment plants, two of which could see construction start this year.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on February 22 for an immediate embargo on Iran's energy sector, saying the UN Security Council should be sidestepped if it cannot agree on the move.

Netanyahu made no reference to the possibility that Israel, assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, would try to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Some analysts believe this option is circumscribed by the long ranges, Iranian defenses and U.S. reluctance to see another regional conflict.

China today repeated its longstanding call for greater diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, despite growing pressure for strong UN action against Tehran.