TEHRAN, Iran Iran's foreign minister said Monday that Tehran may agree to ship part of its stockpile of low enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment, the first official indication that Iran could at least partly sign onto a U.N.-drafted plan aimed at easing nuclear tensions.
The plan is seen by the international community as a way to delay Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon by getting a large part of its enriched uranium stock out of the country, preventing it from being reworked into a warhead. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran's final decision over the plan will "will be made in the next few days."
As an alternative to the U.N. plan, Mottaki said Iran was weighing whether to buy enriched uranium abroad and keep its own supply. The fuel is needed for a research reactor that makes medical isotopes.
"To supply fuel, we may purchase it like in the past, or we may deliver part of (the low enriched uranium) fuel which we currently don't need," Mottaki said.
In either case, Mottaki said Iran will continue to enrich its own uranium as well a step opposed by the U.S. and its allies over fears they could produce weapons-grade material.
"Iran's legal peaceful nuclear activities will continue and this issue (Iran's enrichment program) has nothing to do with supplying fuel for the Tehran reactor," he said.
Fears about the nature of Iran's nuclear program were heightened in September with the disclosure of a once-secret uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. U.N. inspectors are currently in Iran visiting the site for the first time.
Iran agreed to the inspections during a landmark meeting with the U.S. and other world powers at the beginning of October in Geneva, where the idea of Tehran shipping uranium to Russia for further enrichment was first raised.
So far, Tehran's response to the U.N. plan has been unclear. Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani earlier accused the West of trying to cheat his country with the proposal, raising doubts Tehran will approve the deal.
Iran's top ally, Russia, nudged it to accept the plan.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said implementation of the proposal "would allow for a cooling of emotions and a realistic assessment of the situation."
Ryabkov, who has led Russian negotiators in talks on Iran's program, made his comments in an interview published Monday in the Russian daily Vremya Novostei.
The plan was drafted by the International Atomic Energy Agency Wednesday after three days of talks between Iran and the U.S., Russia and France in Vienna. The three countries endorsed the deal Friday, but Tehran has said it is still studying the proposal.
The U.N. plan envisages Iran sending up to 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched to a higher degree needed for use in a Tehran research reactor.
A prominent conservative lawmaker in Iran, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said Monday that if Iran responds positively to the U.N. plan, the country should send its uranium to Russia in several phases, rather than in one batch as currently envisioned. But he told The Associated Press that many lawmakers would prefer Iran buy nuclear fuel.
Parliament does not vote on the plan, which will be approved or rejected by the government.
The U.N. deal is attractive to the U.S. and its allies because it would mean Iran for a period of time, anyway would not have enough uranium stocks to build a bomb.
Uranium enriched to a low level is used to fuel a nuclear reactor for electricity, and a somewhat higher level is used in research reactors. When enriched to levels above 90 percent, the uranium can be used to build a bomb.
Around 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) is the commonly accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed to produce weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear warhead.
The Vienna plan would require Iran to send 2,420 pounds (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of the year.
U.N. inspectors who have been monitoring Iran's nuclear program were scheduled to hold a second day of inspections Monday inside the once-secret uranium enrichment facility carved into a mountainside near Qom.
The four-member IAEA delegation had their first look in the Fordo facility on Sunday. The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of building the facility in secret, a claim denied by Tehran.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner echoed the urgency felt by the West over reaching an agreement over Iran's nuclear program.
He told the Daily Telegraph, in an interview published Monday, that time was running out since Israel might well launch a pre-emptive strike.