The Islamic Republic still wants talks with world powers over fuel supplies to a Teheran nuclear reactor - despite the country's apparent rejection of a UN plan to curb Iran's enriched uranium stockpile.
The Iranian top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said late on Sunday that Teheran "welcomes" talks on the nuclear issue with the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany. Jalili spoke during a meeting with the visiting Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, according to Iran's state television.
Russia is part of the UN effort to ensure Iran doesn't use its nuclear program for weapons-making purposes. Moscow has warned it could back new sanctions against Iran if it fails to take a constructive stance in the nuclear talks.
A UN-brokered proposal in October would have Teheran send 1,100 kg. - around 70 percent of its stockpile - of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of the year for further enrichment. After further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Teheran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material without several month of reprocessing first.
Iran has not given a final response to the UN proposal, and has come up instead with its own request to buy nuclear fuel from abroad. Iranian officials and lawmakers have hardened their stance toward the UN plan in recent comments, adding to the pressure on the government to altogether reject the draft.
In addition, Teheran has indicated it may agree to send only "part" of its stockpile in several shipments abroad and has threatened to - should the talks with world powers fail to help Iran obtain the fuel from abroad - enrich uranium to the higher level needed to power the research reactor domestically.
The back-and-forth has left the nuclear talks in limbo.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Monday that in a bid to salvage the proposal, Washington had told Iran's leaders in back-channel messages that it would allow the Islamic Republic to send its stockpile of enriched uranium to any of several nations, including Turkey, for temporary safekeeping.
However, quoting administration officials and diplomats involved in the exchanges, the newspaper said the offer had fallen on deaf ears, and that instead, "the Iranians are pushing for an old counterproposal: that international arms inspectors take custody of much of Iran's fuel, but keep it on Kish, a Persian Gulf resort island that is part of Iran."
A senior Obama administration official said that proposal had been dismissed for fear of Iran expelling the inspectors at any given moment.
The Times said that International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei had been mediating the back-channel exchanges between Washington and Teheran.
The newspaper further cited Obama aides as saying that the US president would wait until the end of 2009 before concluding that Iran had rejected his offers of diplomatic engagement.
It also said that Obama had reportedly sent Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei two private letters this year, but received only one response, "mostly a litany of past grievances."
The Times went on to say that Obama would "almost certainly" discuss Iran's backing off the enrichment offer with visiting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the White House on Monday evening.