MOSCOW, February 14 (RIA Novosti) - The format of Russia-Iran negotiations on the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear research program could be expanded to include China, a Russian expert said Tuesday.
According to Vladimir Yevseyev, coordinator of the nuclear non-proliferation program at the Carnegie Moscow Center political research institute, this possibility had apparently been behind the postponing of Iranian nuclear negotiators' visit to Moscow, which was rescheduled from February 16 to 20 at Iran's initiative.
"In view of the time shortage, the status of the negotiations could also be raised," Yevseyev said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s Board of Governors, is to hear a report on the issue from Director General Mohammed ElBaradei March 6, and then the Iranian file may be referred to the UN Security Council. The latter has the power to impose sanctions on Iran if it is found to be in breach of its international obligations to pursue no atomic weapons program.
Yevseyev said Iran had been planning to send technical experts to Moscow to discuss Russia's proposal to enrich uranium - a process that can be used both to generate energy and to create bomb-grade material - for Iran's nuclear power plants as part of a joint venture. This proposal has been largely seen as a possible compromise capable of defusing international tensions surrounding Iran's resumption of its nuclear program.
However, Yevseyev said Russia's offer had not received full support in Iran, leading Russia to propose China's involvement in the joint uranium enrichment venture.
"If China is engaged in the negotiations with Iran, this could help alter the content of ElBaradei's report and modify the positions of Russia and China [on the issue]," Yevseyev said, adding that the opinions of the latter two would be essential, considering they had veto-welding power in the UN Security Council and could block international sanctions against Iran.
"If Russia and China back Iran on the compromise option [the joint venture], then the issue will not be pushed on to the UN Security Council without consent from Moscow and Beijing," Yevseyev said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said China's possible participation in the Russia-Iran talks had not yet been discussed.
According to Yevseyev, Iran is more concerned about its own security than guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies, which is why he proposed concluding a package agreement with the country.
The expert also said Iran's security concerns could be allayed if the United States considered offering non-aggression guarantees to Iran. He said such a move would make Russia's uranium enrichment initiative more realizable, as it could not resolve the problem without security guarantees.
"It is extremely difficult to address the problem in separate approaches because this could escalate the conflict and lead to political sanctions against Iran," Yevseyev said.