Iran supports U.S.-backed nuclear fuel bank idea

ASTANA Mon Apr 6, 2009 7:53pm BST

ASTANA (Reuters) - Iran welcomed on Monday a proposal to set up a global nuclear fuel repository, part of a U.S.-backed plan to put all uranium enrichment under strict international control.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Kazakhstan on a visit, said he supported a proposal to host the nuclear bank in the fellow Caspian nation, which is accessible from Iran by sea.

"We think that (Kazakh President) Nursultan Nazarbayev's idea to host a nuclear fuel bank is a very good proposal," he told reporters after talks with the Kazakh leader.

Iran's support for the idea comes as U.S. President Barack Obama pushes for a "new beginning" in bilateral ties, and could play a role in mending bridges after decades of mistrust.

Iran has said before that it would consider stopping sensitive uranium enrichment if guaranteed a supply of nuclear fuel from abroad. However, it has also frequently insisted on its right to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle, including enriching uranium, for peaceful purposes.

Enriched uranium can be used in a nuclear power plant or, if purified to a much higher degree, in an atomic bomb. Iran rejects accusations from the United States and some of its allies that it is trying to develop a bomb under cover of a civilian nuclear program.

WASHINGTON'S MOVE

The global repository idea would allow countries to tap into its reserves to fuel their nuclear plants without having to develop their own enrichment capability.

Speaking in reaction to U.S. proposals of closer relations, Ahmadinejad welcomed "change and reform" but made it clear Tehran expected Washington to make the next move.

"We are waiting for this change," he said. "We hope that his (Obama's) views are based on the necessity for reform and change of policy. We hope he can achieve that."

The nuclear bank is due to be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency but its exact timing and cost remain unclear. Its final host is also yet to be decided.

Earlier on Monday, Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union tested nuclear bombs, was ready to host such a bank on its territory -- part of his plan to boost his oil-rich nation's clout in regional diplomacy.

Kazakhstan, one of the world's biggest uranium producers, inherited a stock of nuclear arms after the Soviet Union collapsed. It gave up its arsenal shortly afterwards, winning praise in the West.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina, editing by Mark Trevelyan)