Wrap: Iran welcomes Russia's enrichment offer, favors talks with EU

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MOSCOW/ST. PETERSBURG, January 25 (RIA Novosti) - Iran's top negotiator at nuclear talks gave a cautious welcome Wednesday to Russia's proposal to establish a joint venture to enrich uranium for Iranian nuclear power plants on Russian territory and said Tehran wanted to continue talks with European Union representatives.

Ali Larijani, who is also the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary, was in Moscow for talks prior to the arrival of a larger delegation, which is due to arrive in the Russian capital on February 13.

The official said Tehran took a "positive" view on the Russian enrichment proposal, but cautioned that it would have to be discussed further at the February meeting. Larijani said "many aspects of the proposal" had to be resolved in relation to the implementation of the project, including the plant's location, regulations for its employees, and the involvement of other nations in the project.

Russia's proposal to enrich uranium for Iranian nuclear power plants on its own territory has been seen as a compromise with the potential to resolve the tension around Iran's nuclear programs, which escalated after Iran abandoned a two-year moratorium on research into uranium enrichment January 10.

The move provoked concerns among other countries that Tehran could use the technology to produce weapons-grade material, as well as nuclear reactor fuel. The United States, which has consistently voiced its fears that the Islamic Republic is pursuing a secret weapons program, insisted that the country's "nuclear file" be referred to the UN Security Council, which has the right to impose sanctions if it finds Iran to be in breach of its international commitments.

However, in an apparent bid to ease concerns Larijani also said Iran favored resuming talks on its nuclear program with a trio of European nations - Germany, Britain and France - or any other country recognizing its right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, with the predictable exception of Israel. Traditionally hostile relations between Iran and Israel deteriorated even further at the end of last year when the Islamic Republic's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Israel should be "wiped from the face of the map."

"We are prepared to hold talks on the nuclear problem with all countries, except Israel, that recognize the right of Iran, an IAEA member, to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," Larijani said referring to the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Talks between the European trio and Iran were broken off in summer 2005 when Tehran resumed partial research at its Isfahan nuclear center. The European countries accused Iran of failing to honor its commitments and withdrew from the talks.

On September 24, 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors issued a resolution threatening to refer the Iranian "nuclear file" to the UN Security Council. In early October 2005, Iran said it was willing to continue talks with Europe on the condition that its right to create a full nuclear fuel cycle, stipulated in the IAEA charter and the non-proliferation treaty, was honored.

The talks resumed December 2005 in Vienna, where the parties presented their cases on the problem, but Iran's decision in January to end its moratorium again frustrated negotiations. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said then: "These provocative actions by the Iranian regime have shattered the basis for negotiation."

During the Moscow talks, Larijani said Iran reserved the right to develop the industrial enrichment of uranium if political pressure was applied to the country and issued a warning that if the country's "nuclear file" were referred to the UN Security Council, then all its nuclear moratoria would be ended.

"The sphere of our activity is not limited to nuclear research," he said. "We will begin the industrial enrichment of nuclear fuel."

Larijani added that the political pressure being exerted on the IAEA was counterproductive and would not contribute to peace and security in the region.

Larijani said experts from the IAEA were currently inspecting his country's nuclear facilities under an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The negotiator said Iran's nuclear research had in no way violated the treaty, adding that withdrawing from the protocol would be a last resort for the Islamic Republic.

"This is not in our interests, and we will resort to the measure if there is no other option for Iran," the official said.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is building an $800-million power plant in Iran but expressed its "disappointment" at the end of the moratorium, said in St. Petersburg that global infrastructure should be established to give all interested countries access to nuclear energy with reliable guarantees that the nuclear non-proliferation regime would be observed.

Putin said Russia was ready to build an international center "to offer nuclear fuel cycle services, including [uranium] enrichment under the control of the IAEA".

The Russian leader said the center under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, would be open to every nation.

He said technological innovations were needed to build new-generation reactors and fuel cycles, and this required broad international cooperation.

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