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Iran will continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent, it said Monday, despite agreeing hours earlier to ship its low-enriched uranium to Turkey.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told the Islamic Republic News Agency shortly after the announcement of the deal with Turkey that Iran will not stop enriching its own uranium.

That deal had been designed to answer international concerns that Iran was secretly trying to build nuclear weapons — a charge it has long denied.

“With this agreement there are no more excuses left for the other side to impose pressure and continue with hindering the whole process of fuel exchange for Iran,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Monday.

He said he hoped the deal would lead the United Nations nuclear energy watchdog to close its file on Iran “forever.”

His speech was carried live by Iran’s government-backed Press TV.

The offer — announced in a joint statement Monday by Iran, Turkey and Brazil — would have Iran send 1,200 kg (2,645 lbs) of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey within a month, and the international group monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities send 120 kg (264 lbs) of high-enriched uranium to Iran within a year.

The group to whom Iran is making the offer — the so-called Vienna Group of the United States, Russia, France, and the International Atomic Energy Agency — did not respond immediately.

Iran, Turkey and Brazil said Iran would formally notify the IAEA of the proposal within a week.

If the deal is not accepted, Turkey will return Iran’s low-enriched uranium, the joint statement said.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin said Iran had made a major concession. “Iran is ready to deliver,” he said. “If the deal goes through that’s fine. If it doesn’t, then the 1,200 kilograms in Turkey will continue to belong to Iran and can be arranged for return.”

t is not clear how Iran’s insistence that it will continue to enrich uranium itself is related to its offer to send low-enriched uranium abroad.

Tehran said it needs to enrich uranium from its current 3.5 percent to 20 percent because a research reactor that produces isotopes for cancer patients is running out of fuel.

But 20-percent enriched uranium is the threshold for setting off a nuclear reaction.

Western nations had been asking Iran to send the low-level uranium out of the country to be enriched elsewhere, but Tehran had resisted until now.

Iran reached its decision after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who were in the country Monday to reach a breakthrough in the showdown over the Persian state’s nuclear program.

The exchange will take place a month after Iran receives the official approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency, said foreign ministry spokesman Mehmanparast.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany offered Iran a deal: send the low-level uranium out of the country to be enriched elsewhere in exchange for fuel for its reactor.

Tehran did not accept but instead made a counteroffer: make the swap a simultaneous one and carry it out on Iranian soil.

The U.S. State Department called the Iranian proposal a stalling tactic and said world powers would not “front” the fuel to Iran.

A stalemate ensued.

The United States then sought support for expanded sanctions against Iran, saying Iran is unlikely to negotiate unless sanctions are in place.

Brazil and Turkey — both temporary members of the security council — had been working toward a diplomatic solution that does not involve sanctions.

The leaders of the two countries were in Tehran for a meeting of the Group of 15 when they reached the deal.

The group actually has 17 members — Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. CNN

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