Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered uranium enrichment to a 20 per cent level without giving up Tehran’s readiness to swap domestically produced low-enriched uranium with atomic fuel produced abroad.

Mr. Ahmadinejad made the announcement during his speech at an exhibition on Iran’s advances in laser technology, in the presence of the atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi. “Mr. Salehi, you start 20 per cent enrichment and at the same time we are ready to negotiate for the exchange of fuel,” Iran’s Mehr News Agency quoted the Iranian President as saying.

On Tuesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad had expressed readiness for swapping lightly enriched uranium for imported fuel for the Tehran research reactor engaged in producing medical isotopes to treat cancer. On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki expressed optimism during the course of an international security conference in Munich on wrapping up a nuclear exchange deal with global powers.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also announced that Iran had acquired the know-how to enrich uranium using laser technology, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

By using laser technology, uranium enrichment could be carried out with higher accuracy and speed, yielding a higher quality product, Mr. Ahmadinejad said. However, Iran would persist with carrying out enrichment using the centrifuges, and not deploy laser technology, the President said.

The announcements in Tehran came amid the circulation of a draft earlier this week by the United States, Britain and France advocating additional sanctions against Iran. China and Russia, during the course of the Munich conference have signalled their opposition to additional sanctions against Tehran and emphasised the use of diplomacy to ease tensions.

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