Uranium enrichment centers to help resolve key problems - Putin

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MOSCOW, February 3 (RIA Novosti) - The initiative to set up uranium enrichment centers may help resolve key problems by political means, Vladimir Putin said Friday.

He said the purpose of this initiative is to ensure equal and non-discriminatory access of all the interested countries to modern nuclear energy development.

Putin said that Russia's position was the nuclear non-proliferation regime had to be upheld, but the country was open to broad international cooperation.

Russia's initiative to set up multilateral centers offering nuclear fuel cycle services, which the president mentioned during his annual news conference on January 31, aimed to achieve a political and diplomatic resolution of the key problems, including probably the most contentious issue in current global affairs: Iran.

"Russia is a suitable partner for resolving such problems, given the country's highly developed nuclear energy sector, highly skilled staff, experts and comprehensive nuclear infrastructure," Putin said during the news conference.

The Russian offer to enrich Iranian fuel has been seen as a compromise in the standoff between the Islamic Republic and the West over its nuclear programs after Tehran caused widespread international concern with a recent announcement that it had abandoned a two-year moratorium on uranium enrichment research. The proposal potentially removes the need for Iran to pursue controversial research that could also give it the technology to build nuclear weapons.

Some countries, led by the U.S., suspect Tehran of pursuing a secret weapons program and have been pushing the referral of the Iranian nuclear file to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic if it is found to have been in breach of its international commitments. Iran has consistently stated that it only wants nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, looks increasingly likely to refer the matter to New York.

However, the Iranian president put a Russian offer to enrich his country's uranium on its territory under a major question mark Thursday, when he questioned the details of the deal.

"We have been made an offer to have uranium enriched outside Iran," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. "But what will we do if at some point we are not supplied with nuclear fuel?"

The president said the Iranian people would not be deceived.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Ahmadinejad's statement had no foundations.

"From the very beginning, when we put forward the proposal in the context of Iran's talks with the EU-3, we made it a point that Russia should guarantee uninterrupted fuel supplies to Bushehr [nuclear power plant] and for other peaceful purposes," Lavrov said, referring to the trio of European nations - Germany, France and the United Kingdom - handling the Iranian situation and the $800-million nuclear plant it is building in Iran.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director general, praised Thursday the Russian initiative calling it a bridge to a fair resolution of the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear programs, which the United States and some European countries fear may lead to the Islamic Republic developing nuclear weapons.

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