Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Russia expects clear answer from Iran on enrichment proposal

Iran should give a clear answer to Russia's offer to set up a uranium enrichment joint venture on Russian territory, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday.

"Iran should say unambiguously whether it is planning to acceptor reject the offer in order to allay the international community's concerns," Ivanov told a news conference in Moscow.

"Tensions are running high over Iran. Our offer of uranium enrichment on Russian territory remains on the table. But it is a complex proposal that should be handled within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," Ivanov said. READ MORE

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plans to meet with his colleagues from the European trio--Germany, Britain and France, as well as China and the United States in Berlin on Thursday to discuss issues related to the Iranian nuclear program, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on Tuesday.

Lavrov sent the same message to Tehran on Monday. "Our proposal for a joint uranium enrichment venture remains on the negotiating table but stays within the context of a general package," Lavrov said, adding that all remaining questions concerning Iran's nuclear program should be answered to confirm its peaceful character.

Lavrov also called for comprehensive support of the Vienna-based IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog.

"It is necessary to support the IAEA activity. It will be useful for the UN Security Council to uphold the IAEA, but the Security Council should not assume functions of experts," the minister said.

Tehran "intends to continue talks with Moscow" on creating the joint venture to enrich uranium, Iranian ambassador to Russia Gholam-Reza Ansari told a local news agency. "The talks will be held when (and) if necessary."

The dispute over Iran's nuclear program escalated after Tehran resumed nuclear fuel research in January, prompting the IAEA decision last month to report its case to the UN Security Council.

Iran then stopped the IAEA's snap inspections of its nuclear sites and resumed small-scale uranium enrichment work.

Iran denies the U.S. charge of developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, insisting on its right to peaceful nuclear technology.

The UN Security Council's five permanent members held closed consultations on March 8 on the approach the powerful organ should take in handling the crisis over Iran's disputed nuclear program.