- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

KERMAN, Iran | Iran’s president warned the United States on Wednesday that it will miss a historic opportunity for cooperation if it turns down a nuclear-fuel swap deal that Washington has dismissed as a ploy.

Differences over the deal — and the U.S. push for new sanctions over Iran’s disputed nuclear program — have threatened to close the door on President Obama’s already fading policy of outreach to Tehran.

“There are people in the world who want to pit Mr. Obama against the Iranian nation and bring him to the point of no return, where the path to his friendship with Iran will be blocked forever,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a rally in the southern town of Kerman.

The swap offer was negotiated last week by Brazil and Turkey, which are opposed to new U.N. sanctions on Iran. The United States quickly announced that it had won agreement from the other permanent members of the Security Council — Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Germany on a draft resolution that would hit Iran with a fourth round of penalties for refusing to completely halt uranium enrichment.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday rejected the Iranian plan to swap some of its enriched uranium for reactor fuel as a “transparent ploy” to try to avoid new sanctions.

British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt agreed and told a briefing for U.N. correspondents in New York on Wednesday that the Brazil-Turkey-Iran agreement “doesn’t address the key issue … for Iran to talk about its nuclear policy and nuclear issues.”

At U.N. headquarters, Security Council experts were continuing work on a new list of individuals, companies and other entities that would be subject to sanctions, including a freeze of their assets and a travel ban.

One U.N. diplomat familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are private, said the sanctions resolution could be put to a vote by mid-June.

The U.S. and its allies worry that Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program only seeks energy-producing reactors.

The hardening of positions reflects a shift in tone by Mr. Obama, who came to office promising a policy of dialogue with Iran. The effort has made little headway, with the United Nations demanding Iran halt uranium enrichment and Tehran refusing and expanding its enrichment program.

The dialogue policy also has been complicated by the Iranian leadership’s heavy crackdown on the opposition after June 12 presidential elections that Mr. Ahmadinejad is accused of winning by fraud.

The fuel-swap deal was touted as a rare opportunity to promote cooperation. A U.N.-drafted plan put forward in October called for Iran to send the majority of its low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing into fuel rods to be returned to it for use in a research reactor. The U.S. sought the plan as a way to ensure Iran, at least temporarily, did not have enough low-enriched uranium to be further processed into a nuclear warhead.

But Tehran balked for months over the terms of the plan. The deal it finally reached with Turkey and Brazil contains many similar provisions. However, since October, Iran has accumulated enough low-enriched uranium to still build a warhead even if it sends the amount under the deal abroad, making the deal less attractive to the West.

Washington has accused Iran of trying to stall.

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