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Iran Demands US Free Its Assets After Obama Warning

TEHRAN - Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday urged Washington to unblock Iranian assets, as US President Barack Obama warned of "consequences" after Tehran's dismissal of a UN-brokered nuclear fuel deal.

"If our nation sees they have changed their behaviour, dropped their arrogant attitude ... and return Iranian nation's rights and assets, the nation will accept that," the Iranian president said in a televised speech in the northern city of Tabriz.

"But if they are again after deception and plotting in the region, our nation's response will be the same as it gave to these men's predecessors," he said in an apparent warning to archfoe the United States.

On Wednesday, Iran rejected plans for it to send more than 70 percent of its stocks of low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad under a deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and aimed at defusing a long-running standoff with the West over Tehran's controversial atomic programme.

Obama has pursued a carrot-and-stick policy with Tehran, offering diplomatic engagement and at the same time threatening tougher sanctions if Iran does not come clean over its atomic programme.

The United States froze Iranian government assets in 1979 when Islamist militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held its staff hostage, which led to the scrapping of diplomatic relations in 1980.

The asset freeze, renewed every year, is a source of resentment in Iran.

Iran's uranium enrichment work is at the centre of fears about its atomic ambition as the process which makes nuclear fuel can also be used to make atomic bombs.

Iran has refused to halt enrichment despite three sets of UN sanctions and it drew outrage in the West by disclosing in September a new enrichment plant, Fordo, which is being built inside a mountain near the Shiite holy city of Qom.

Iran's IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said UN experts will visit the Fordo plant on Thursday for the second time in less than a month.

Iranian officials say the construction of the plant is a message to the West that Tehran will never give up its uranium enrichment work and that the plant is a back-up facility in case the main enrichment plant at Natanz is bombed.

Washington and Israel have never ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, which they suspect are being used to make weapons, a charge strongly denied by the Islamic republic.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Wednesday that Iran is however ready for more talks with world powers on the issue and is prepared to consider the idea of a simultaneous exchange of uranium for fuel for a Tehran reactor.

The IAEA, however, has already said that idea is unacceptable to the Western powers, which support the UN-brokered deal because they believe it would leave Iran with not enough stocks of LEU to be able to make a bomb.

Obama stepped up pressure on Iran after the Islamic republic dismissed the fuel deal which emerged from talks between Iran and Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

He warned Washington has "begun discussions with its international partners about the importance of having consequences."

"Our expectations are that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran."

World powers have warned Iran that it could face tough new sanctions if it rejects the deal.

Under the IAEA-brokered proposals, Iran would send out 1,200 kilograms (more than 2,640 pounds), which would then be further enriched by Russia and converted into fuel by France before being supplied to a Tehran reactor.

"The amount they mentioned for the swap is not acceptable ... and our experts are still studying it," Mottaki said when he announced Iran's rejection of the deal.

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