Friday, February 24, 2006

Russia, China Officials in Iran for Talks

Paul Hughes, Reuters:
Russia and China stepped up their efforts on Friday to persuade Iran to accept a compromise proposal over its nuclear program that may avert the threat of U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom, and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Lu Guozeng arrived in Tehran for three days of talks over Iran's nuclear impasse.

Time is running out for Iran to avoid formal referral to the U.N. Security Council at a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on March 6. READ MORE

Iran has offered U.N. inspectors information about a shadowy uranium-processing project that Western intelligence has linked to warhead design, a senior diplomat in Vienna said on Thursday.

The diplomat, close to the IAEA but asking not to be named, said IAEA inspectors would be in Tehran this weekend to check the information on the "Green Salt Project."

Russian officials have played down expectations of a breakthrough at the Tehran talks and analysts say Iran is in no mood to compromise.

High oil prices and U.S. problems in Iraq meant that for Iran "this is probably not the time to concede," the International Crisis Group think-tank said in a new report.

It said it expected Iran "to press ahead, strengthening its position for the day genuine negotiations or confrontation with the U.S. might begin."

Senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani told worshippers at Friday Prayers in Tehran that Iran was telling the West: "Nuclear energy is so entwined with our honor and dignity that we will never let your ominous plans be implemented."

Worshippers responded with chants of "God is Greatest" and "Nuclear energy is our indisputable right."


Russia and China, both of whom have burgeoning energy and trade ties with Tehran and veto rights on the Security Council, do not favor the use of sanctions against Iran, which denies any intention of making nuclear arms.

But with Iran seemingly unmoved by the threat of Security Council referral or the possibility of military action, Moscow and Beijing have joined Western calls for it to halt immediately atomic fuel research and enrichment which it resumed last month.

Kiriyenko said he would press ahead with the joint enrichment facility talks and also visit the Gulf port city of Bushehr, where a Russian-built atomic reactor, Iran's first, is due to come onstream later this year, state television reported.

The Tehran negotiations follow a round of inconclusive talks in Moscow earlier this week over Russia's offer to enrich uranium for nuclear reactors on Iran's behalf, keeping nuclear technology needed for building bombs outside Iran.

Iranian officials have suggested China could also take part in the proposed joint enrichment facility in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he still held out hope for reaching a deal with Iran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking on a visit to Indonesia on Thursday, said Tehran was seriously considering the Russian offer but had concerns over the details.

Western diplomats fear Iran may be prolonging the talks with Russia in the hope of delaying any U.N. Security Council action.

Iran says it cannot rely solely on foreign partners to supply it with nuclear fuel and, therefore, must retain the capacity to produce at least some of the enriched uranium it needs to feed a large network of planned atomic reactors.