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Iran says Brazil, Turkey Offering New Nuclear Fuel Swap Proposal

Iran says Brazil and Turkey have offered a new proposal for a nuclear fuel deal as Tehran continues to step up its efforts to hold off new U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said during a weekly media briefing the latest talks with Turkey and Brazil have produced a new proposal that could "pave the ground for understanding."

Tehran has made a series of counteroffers after rejecting a U.N.-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods for a reactor in exchange for Iran's stock of lower-level enriched uranium. But they appear to fall short of Western demands aimed at ensuring Tehran is unable to produce nuclear weapons.

Mehmanparast says Iran still needs reassurances to accept the deal. He says that there are three issues that need to be resolved concerning the fuel swap, including the quantity of 20 percent grade uranium fuel needed by Tehran's research reactor, the timing of the delivery, and the exact location of the swap. Iran, he insists, wants the swap to take place on its own soil.

Mehmanparast also said that Tehran had "accepted an offer from European Union foreign policy chief Kathleen Ashton to meet Iranian national security chief Saeed Jalili in Turkey for negotiations in the near future.

Other Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Atomic Energy Agency Chief Ali Akbar Salehi, and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, now visiting Turkey, all spoke on Iranian TV within the past 24 hours, offering positive assessments of a possible deal.

The presidents of Turkey and Brazil are expected to visit Iran next week amid widespread discussion of a joint mediation effort to reach a fuel-swap deal.

Iran analyst Gary Sick, who teaches at Columbia University, said he thinks it likely Turkey and Brazil are trying to jump-start negotiations with Iran, but it is not clear if either country had actually offered a new proposal:

"I think that, in fact, those two countries are trying to find a way to get the negotiations started again," said Sick. "And, I do not know if they have come up with something specific or whether Iran is making more of it than it would appear. What is clear to me is that Iran very much wants to divide the Security Council to prevent this sanctions bill from coming up for a vote in the next month, as many people anticipate."

Foundation for the Defense of Democracies senior fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi has written extensively about Iran's nuclear program and agrees with Gary Sick that Tehran is working to "stall" ongoing negotiations at the Security Council for a fourth round of sanctions.

He says Iran has launched a broad diplomatic offensive, including numerous face-to-face talks, and he urges the international community to increase pressure on the Iranian regime, rather than succumb to what he calls a new Iranian ploy.