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Iran scolds world powers over gold sanctions "offer"

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran criticized on Monday a reported plan by major powers to demand the closure of a uranium enrichment plant in return for an easing of sanctions on Tehran's trade in gold and other precious metals, Iranian media reported.

The Islamic Republic, which says its nuclear program is peaceful, started building the Fordow plant inside a mountain in secret as early as 2006, to protect it from air strikes.

Last week Reuters reported world powers were planning to offer to ease sanctions barring trade in gold and other precious metals with Iran in return for steps to shut down Fordow.

On Monday Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, suggested the reported offer was unacceptable.

"Lately they have said 'Shut down Fordow, stop (uranium) enrichment, we will allow gold transactions'," Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency. "They want to take away the rights of a nation in exchange for allowing trade in gold."

Western officials said last week the offer to ease sanctions barring gold and other precious metals trade with Iran would be presented at talks between Iran and world powers in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on February 26.

They acknowledged it represented a relatively modest update to proposals that the six major powers made in talks last year.

On Sunday, the head of Iran's parliamentary national security and foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said Fordow would never be shut down and that proposing its closure was "meant to help the Zionist regime (Israel)".

Mehmanparast said talks on the nuclear issue must take account of Iran's sovereign rights.

"We are ready for negotiations, negotiations that have a logical approach which officially recognizes our rights completely. Of course steps must be concurrent and of equal weight," he said.

Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has threatened to attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to curb its nuclear work, raising fears of a regional war.

Fordow lies at the heart of concerns over Iran's nuclear activities because of the enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which the U.S. and its allies say is a major step towards developing nuclear weapons capability.

Iran says its aims are purely peaceful and that it enriches uranium to a higher grade to make isotopes for medical purposes.

Tighter U.S. sanctions are killing off Turkey's gold-for-gas trade with Iran and have stopped Turkish state-owned lender Halkbank from processing other nations' energy payments to the OPEC oil producer, bankers said on Friday.

U.S. officials have sought to prevent Turkish gold exports, which indirectly pay Iran for its natural gas, from providing a financial lifeline to Tehran, largely frozen out of the global banking system by Western sanctions over its nuclear program.

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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