Iran Nuclear NewsIran says it's studying Russian proposal

Iran says it’s studying Russian proposal

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Reuters: Iran said on Wednesday it would “seriously and enthusiastically” study a Russian proposal aimed at reducing international fears about its nuclear programme, the ISNA students news agency reported. By Paul Hughes

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran said on Wednesday it would “seriously and enthusiastically” study a Russian proposal aimed at reducing international fears about its nuclear programme, the ISNA students news agency reported.

The remarks by Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, were the most positive yet by a senior Tehran official about Moscow’s offer to form a joint venture with Iran to enrich uranium in Russia.

The Russian proposal is backed by the United States and the European Union.

It is aimed at easing international concerns that Tehran could make atomic bombs from highly enriched uranium, after having concealed a nuclear programme from U.N. inspectors for 18 years until 2003.

Iran says it only wants to purify uranium to a lower grade suitable for use in power stations.

The Russian proposal “will be reviewed seriously and enthusiastically”, Vaeedi told ISNA.

“The Russian proposal could revive some of the unimplemented regulations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for transferring nuclear technology to countries which do not have access to this technology, and break the scientific monopoly of this issue.”

Face-to-face talks between Iran and the “EU3” — Britain, Germany and France — on a diplomatic solution to growing tensions over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions resumed in Vienna this month after a four-month freeze, and are to resume in January.

Previously, Iran poured cold water on the Russian proposal, saying it would not accept any plan which did not allow it to carry out a full nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment, on its own soil.

But EU diplomats and arms control experts have noted that Tehran has stopped short of outright rejection of the plan, which could weaken Russian opposition to EU and U.S. efforts to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

They say Iran may be willing to drag out talks about the Russian proposal to buy time and good favour.

Told of Vaeedi’s remarks, an EU3 diplomat said they did not sound like any breakthrough in the making.

“He seems to see the offer as a chance for Iranian scientists to go to a third country to learn something. That’s not our intention — to transfer know-how on the sensitive stages of enrichment to Iran. Our idea is to meet Iran’s commercial energy needs,” said the diplomat, asking for anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

U.S. and EU officials hope that having Iranian uranium enriched in Russia would minimise the chance of diversions for development of weapons-grade material.

“Iran may be trying to buy time since they know it would be counterproductive to reject Russia’s offer outright before January 18,” the EU diplomat said, mentioning the mooted date for the next round of talks.

“Iran may come to the next talks with a modified proposal for a joint venture in Iran, with a Russian role.”

Striking a softer tone than other Iranian officials recently, Vaeedi said the Russian proposal could be studied in the framework of an existing agreement with Moscow on supply of enriched uranium for Iran’s first atomic reactor at Bushehr, due to come onstream in late 2006.

“The new proposal could be studied and its economic, technical and scientific dimensions clarified. The amount of participation of the Iranian side in this plan will be an important indicator,” he said.

“Whatever meaning the Russian proposal has, it does not mean depriving Iran of its rights.”

(additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna)

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