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The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is ready to accept an international proposal that would ease concerns about the country's nuclear program, it would be welcomed news. But U.S. officials say Iran must communicate its intentions to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Officials here say they are taking Mr. Ahmadinejad's remarks on state television late Tuesday seriously. But they say that it remains to be seen whether his comments reflect a change in Iran's position or are an attempt to ease pressure for more sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian leader said his country would have no problem sending low-enriched uranium abroad to be processed to 20 percent purity and returned to Iran four or five months later.
Last October in Geneva, major world powers proposed that Iran ship most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad to be further enriched and returned to re-supply a Tehran medical research reactor that has run low on fuel.
Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said if President Ahmadinejad's comments mean that Iran is accepting the offer, it would be welcomed news, but the real question is whether Tehran will officially respond positively to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.
"From our standpoint, we will look for actions as opposed to just words," he said. "To the extent that the president is offering a new perspective on the Tehran research reactor arrangement that was offered Iran last fall in Geneva, we will look forward to hearing about the Iranian position through the IAEA."
Mr. Ahmadinejad's remarks came amid expressions of optimism by U.S. officials that world powers, including Russia and China, are becoming more inclined toward new sanctions against Iran because of its defiance of demands for transparency about its nuclear intentions.
A senior official here said that if the aim of the Iranian president is to try to buy time or divide the international community, the gambit will backfire.
Meanwhile, the State Department denied a suggestion by Mr. Ahmadinejad that discussions are underway on exchanging three Americans held in Iran on spy charges for Iranians jailed in the United States.
U.S. officials say the three Americans are hikers who inadvertently crossed into Iran last year while in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Spokesman Crowley said if the Iranian leader's comments means that Tehran is ready to resolve the cases of the hikers and other Americans detained or missing in Iran, it would be long-overdue welcomed news.
But he said there are no negotiations underway and that the United States sees no parallel between the hikers' and Iranians jailed in the United States for criminal offenses.
"There's not really equivalence, if you will, between an Iranian citizen who has been indicted and/or convicted of arms trafficking in violation of international law, and three hikers who wandered across an unmarked border. So we're not interested in a swap per se. We are interested in resolving the cases of our citizens who should be released immediately," the State Department spokesman.
Crowley said U.S. officials are ready to respond to questions Iran might have in the cases of jailed Iranians and to facilitate consular access to them.