Thursday, December 29, 2005

Iran Asks Russia to Clarify Fuel Plan

International Herald Tribune:
Tehran Iran said Thursday that it needed talks with Moscow to clarify what it described as "ambiguities" in a Russian proposal that the two nations enrich uranium on Russian territory. READ MORE

Still, Iran said it was considering the proposal, which is backed by Europe and the United States, marking Tehran's most conciliatory stance yet after weeks of rejecting outright the idea of moving its enrichment program outside Iran.

The proposal aims at ensuring that Iran cannot use uranium enrichment to build nuclear weapons. Enrichment is a key process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material for a warhead. Under the proposal, Iran would receive fuel for its reactors from abroad.

The remarks Thursday by Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, could be an attempt to buy time under intensified pressure to accept the deal. The proposal - formally made to Tehran last week - puts Iran in a difficult position, since it is reluctant to directly reject an offer from Russia, its longtime ally that is helping it build its first nuclear reactor.

"The Russian proposal about Iran's nuclear activities has problems and ambiguities that need to be clarified in further talks," Larijani told Igor Ivanov, head of the Russian Security Council, in a telephone conversation Thursday, state-run television in Iran reported.

However, Larijani said, "This idea can be considered." Larijani and Ivanov agreed that the deputy head of the Russian Security Council would visit Tehran "soon" to discuss the proposal, the television report said. The talks between Iran and Russia will have nothing to do with nuclear talks between Iran and Europe, the report said.

The Europeans are hoping the compromise can bring a breakthrough in negotiations aimed at ensuring that Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons. Talks between Iran and Britain, France and Germany resumed earlier this month, making little progress, and are to continue in January.

Iran says its nuclear program has the sole aim of making fuel for atomic reactors that would generate electricity and denies U.S. assertions it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran at first denied receiving the proposal, but it confirmed Wednesday that it was considering it.

Javad Vaidi, a top Iranian nuclear negotiator, said Wednesday that Russia's proposal was to "set up a joint Iranian-Russian company to enrich uranium in Russian territory." He, however, suggested that Tehran would not scrap its domestic uranium enrichment program. Iran has insisted that it cannot be stripped of its rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including the right to carry out uranium enrichment.

A hard-line member of the Iranian Parliament, Saeed Aboutaleb, described the Russian proposal as a "dirty trick."

Washington is pushing for Tehran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council, where it could face economic sanctions over the dispute.

But Russia and China, which have vetoes on the council, oppose referral and the West has stopped short of forcing the matter.