(Reuters) Iran would be ready to join a body that would provide enriched uranium for Middle East users, an Iranian official said on Friday, after Saudi Arabia proposed it as a way to defuse Tehran's nuclear row with the West.
The official, who said it was initially Iran's idea, did not mention the Islamic state's own uranium enrichment work. Iran has consistently refused to heed U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.
"The issue of a consortium is an issue that the Islamic Republic initially came up with," senior Foreign Ministry official Mohammad Reza Bagheri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
"If Arab countries are ready to take part in a consortium with Iran we still welcome our previous proposal and we are ready to do it," he said in Istanbul, where Iranian officials are taking part in a conference on the situation in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said in an interview published on Thursday that U.S.-allied Gulf states are willing to set up a body to provide enriched uranium to Iran to defuse Tehran's stand-off with the West over its nuclear ambitions.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries -- Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates -- share Western concerns Iran's nuclear energy program will lead to it making atomic bombs. Tehran says it wants to produce electricity.
The consortium would distribute enriched uranium for all users in the Middle East according to need and ensure that it is not used for atomic weapons, foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED).
Prince Saud said Iran was considering the offer, which envisages building a plant in a neutral country such as Switzerland.