Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered the further enrichment of his nation's uranium, just days after he said he was open to a U.N. plan to enrich the material abroad.
President Ahmadinejad on Sunday told the nation's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, to begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, high enough to power an Iranian reactor that produces nuclear medical material.
Speaking in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad also says he is still open to negotiations with the United Nations about sending the uranium abroad for enrichment.
The order is the latest in a series of shifting, informal responses by Iranian officials to a U.N. proposal last year. The plan calls for Iran to send much of its uranium stockpile to Russia and France for conversion into fuel rods. Iran has hesitated, saying it worries it will not get the uranium back.
The United States and other Western nations are concerned that if the material stays in Iran, the government will enrich it to about 90 percent, at which level it could be used in nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies that is its aim. Some Western scientists doubt whether Iran has the ability to enrich the uranium that much, let alone turn it into weapons. But the secrecy surrounding Iran's nuclear program and a standoff with the U.N.'s nuclear agency make that impossible to verify.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, in Germany for a security conference, said Saturday that a deal with the U.N. can still be reached.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in Turkey, said that rather than public statements, it would be better if the Iranians told that directly to the U.N. nuclear agency. The United States has been leading efforts to consider new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.