In an exclusive interview to The Hindu during a two-day visit to Delhi, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki talks about the latest western proposal on the nuclear issue, the reasons behind the recent disclosure of a new enrichment facility at Fardoo and the current state of Indo-Iranian relations. Excerpts.

Iran has yet to respond to the proposal of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) for fuelling the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The proposal, which involves Iran shipping out some of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) in return for 20 per cent enriched uranium, seems good for both sides. It shows the P5+1 is dropping its insistence on Iran suspending all enrichment, and also allows Tehran to build confidence with the U.S. and its allies. What will Iran’s stand be?

In order to provide fuel for the TRR, there are three options in front of us. The first is producing the fuel ourselves, i.e. enriching LEU up to 20 per cent; second, purchasing the fuel from other countries as in the past; or third, considering the proposal which has been made by the other side. And we have taken this proposal into consideration and provided an initial response - that we are ready to discuss that option. We have some technical and economical observations here but in principle, this option could be taken into consideration and put on the agenda. We believe that with the continuation of the diplomacy going on now, it is possible to reach an agreement and compromise. Complementary suggestions and proposals are being sent and received by both sides, and by [International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed] ElBaradei.

One of the proposals is to involve Turkey as a staging post for the swap, or for Iran to buy half its requirement for the TRR and export only half of its own LEU. Are these some of the ideas being actively considered by your government?

One part of the discussion is the exchange of Iran’s 3.5 per cent LEU with 20 per cent enriched uranium of the other side. There’s some talk regarding the exchange of these two fuels inside Iran. With a positive view regarding the essence and nature of the proposal, we are reviewing the possibility of exchanging this fuel inside Iran. We have studied this proposal in order to open a new door for the other side. And the truth of the matter is their interaction could somehow build confidence among the Iranians.

When you say “exchange inside Iran”, are you saying the 20 per cent enriched fuel for the TRR must come first?

Well, if there is going to be any exchange of fuel inside Iran, this must mean one side of the fuel exists in Iran and the other side should come, the 20 per cent.

Is it that Iran doesn’t trust some of the countries involved? Are you afraid, for example, that the French may cheat you?

That is not what we are saying. We need fuel for the TRR. May be in exchange for one portion of this fuel, we hand over some of our fuel. Therefore, it is quite natural to see this happen inside Iran.

From what I gather, you are looking to modify the basic P5+1 proposal but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said this is a ‘take it or leave it’ offer.

In diplomacy, we do not have zero or hundred. Therefore, flexibility is considered the essence of diplomacy. I believe this, and I guess the American side will understand this point as well…. Earlier, when they wanted to talk to us, they put some preconditions [like suspension of enrichment].But today they are talking and participating in talks without any preconditions.

The IAEA has now visited the proposed nuclear facility you recently declared at Fardoo near Qom. What is the purpose of the facility and why did Iran inform the agency about it only recently?

The reason for nuclear activity in Iran is producing fuel for generating power. The Fardoo facility is a site designed to take into account the use of new and updated centrifuges and the [need for] security. According to the laws we have ratified in Iran, we had to inform the IAEA only18 months before injecting fuel into the centrifuges. But we have done so before that time.

The U.S. claims Iran told the IAEA about Fardoo because it realised the CIA knew about the site and was likely to go public. Is this true?

Whenever they have any information, they highlight it ten times more for the benefit of the world’s public. So how come the CIA was so humble that it did not announce this site to the public! No matter when we announced it, they were going to say something else.

Do you feel President Obama is sincere when he says he wants to build new relations with Iran? Do you feel he represents a change from George W. Bush?

We consider the new administration different from the earlier one, which was a total warmonger administration that sullied the reputation of the U.S. The failure of the Bush policies has been confirmed by the American people, who showed this with their votes in the presidential election. Today, everyone around the world knows Obama is a chance for the U.S. And the experts there should not allow this opportunity to lead to failure. We want to believe what President Obama is saying. We hope he can operationalise what he says. To the extent to which President Obama is serious in his approach, Iran is ready to help.

There is a feeling in the aftermath of your recent presidential election that divisions within the Iranian establishment might make it hard for Tehran to take advantage of the opportunities for dialogue presented by Mr. Obama and the latest P5+1 proposal.

The incidents after the elections ended a long time ago. It was a miscalculation by those who lost. I think the presidential election strengthened the capability of Iran. It was unique in our history that the difference between the president and his nearest rival was 11 million votes. Therefore, the decision-makers of the Islamic Republic of Iran are moving forward with more energy and power. We have received the messages of President Obama and are studying those messages. When we assess that the administration’s actions and deeds go along with one another, certainly they are going to have our help.

Indian officials say they are keen to expand relations with Iran. What are the specific areas of cooperation you discussed with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna?

In my meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Krishna, we reviewed all dimensions of our relations. I agree they are interested and keen on developing and enhancing relations with Iran. We found our Indian friends serious and believe a new chapter has been opened for cooperation.

But the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline remains dead?

We voiced our full readiness that after finalisation of the issue by the Indian side we can add India to the project. Both the EAM and PM reiterated and raised this issue.

Among well-wishers of Iran in India, there is concern about the recent secret trial of the Iranian scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, for his alleged involvement in the post-election protests. Now he has been sentenced to 12-15 years. We hope his case can be reviewed because he is a scholar and not someone involved in subversion.

All judicial verdicts can be reviewed and the opportunity of appeal is there for him. I am not aware of the details of his case. But our great effort is to see that those entering court can use all their rights, including appeal or using the capacity and potentiality of pardon.

If diplomacy continues, it is possible to reach an agreement on the U.S.-led proposal for the exchange of nuclear fuel, says Iran’s Foreign Minister.