Iran Nuclear NewsIran to pursue atomic research despite Russian plan

Iran to pursue atomic research despite Russian plan

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Reuters: Iran vowed on Monday to pursue nuclear research even if talks in Moscow lead to agreement on a Russian offer to enrich uranium for Iranian power plants — a plan aimed at defusing fears Tehran wants atomic bombs. By Meg Clothier

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Iran vowed on Monday to pursue nuclear research even if talks in Moscow lead to agreement on a Russian offer to enrich uranium for Iranian power plants — a plan aimed at defusing fears Tehran wants atomic bombs.

“If we reach some compromise … (on the Russian proposal), we continue our cooperation from where we are now. That is, the research department will continue its activity,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news briefing in Brussels.

His remarks poured cold water on Russia’s plan, which proposes enriching Iranian uranium on Russian soil to prevent Tehran diverting it for weapons. Iran says it needs atomic power for electricity, not bombs.

Russia hopes its formula can keep Western threats of sanctions against Iran at bay, but the low-key format of the closed-door talks and the tone of officials’ comments suggested little prospect of an immediate breakthrough.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told President Vladimir Putin he felt “reserved” about the outcome, but promised Moscow would do all it could to stop the dispute between Iran and the West turning violent.

Russia says it will insist Iran reinstate a moratorium on uranium enrichment before creating a joint venture to supply it with the low-enriched fuel — which could not be used for bombs.

Mottaki said the Russian plan must satisfy four criteria: who would take part in the project; where enrichment would take place; how long the project would take; and whether the West accepted its right to peaceful nuclear activities.

TALKS WITH EU

The United States and the European Union trio of France, Britain and Germany — the countries pressing Iran hardest on its nuclear program — have welcomed the Russian plan.

But privately Western diplomats are skeptical, saying Tehran is keeping the Russian offer on the table to buy time.

Earlier, Mottaki met EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, whose spokeswoman said afterwards the European Union remained keen to find a diplomatic solution.

“We have no wish to isolate Iran, we hope Iran will not choose to isolate itself,” the spokeswoman said, calling on Iran to return to a suspension of uranium enrichment.

Mottaki said Europe needed to meet it halfway: “I unfortunately have to say we can’t recognize that our European friends accept sincerely the right of Iran to have nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.”

And the leader of Iran’s delegation to the Moscow talks made clear he was not ready to give ground.

“We will not step back one inch from our obvious right (to nuclear technology),” Ali Hosseinitash, a deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was quoted by Iranian television as saying before the meeting in Moscow began.

Mottaki said it was wrong for the West to use the U.N. Security Council to promote punitive measures against Iran.

“We believe the time of threats is over. The Security Council should not be considered as a tool in the hands of some countries,” he said.

The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency this month reported Iran to the council, which is awaiting a report from IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on March 6.

The U.N. watchdog sent the dispute to the Security Council after Iran removed IAEA seals on uranium enrichment equipment at its Natanz facility in January after suspending work there for 2-1/2 years while it negotiated with the three EU powers.

Russia has often said it opposes sanctions and says the dispute should be solved via negotiations under the umbrella of the IAEA. As a permanent member of the Security Council it could veto any U.S. or European-backed resolution seeking sanctions.

Russia does not want to forfeit its close diplomatic and commercial ties with Tehran but neither does it want Iran’s hardline leaders to acquire nuclear weapons. Only the Caspian Sea state Azerbaijan separates the two countries.

Europe, smarting from disruptions to its Russian gas supplies, would also like closer energy ties with Iran, which has the second largest gas supplies in the world after Russia. But EU energy chief Andris Piebalgs, visiting Shanghai on Monday, said the nuclear row had to be solved first.

If Monday’s talks end inconclusively, Russian officials are pinning hopes on a visit to Iran later this week by Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear agency, to produce progress.

(Additional reporting by Paul Hughes in Tehran, Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Mark John in Brussels, Oleg Shchedrov in Moscow, Lucy Hornby in Shanghai)

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