Tehran says Russian plan could revive nuclear talks

Iran increased enrichment activities, shifted production of high grade fuel to underground bunker that is less vulnerable to military strike.

By REUTERS
August 16, 2011 15:29
3 minute read.
Natanz nuclear facility, 300 km south of Tehran.

Natanz nuclear facility_311 reuters. (photo credit: STR New / Reuters)

 
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TEHRAN - Iran welcomed on Tuesday a Russian attempt to revive talks with six world powers that are concerned about the its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, but was vague about what the agenda should be.

"We have not received a complete and official plan offered by Russia for Iran's nuclear issue," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was cited as saying by the ISNA news agency.

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After meeting Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev, his Iranian counterpart said a proposal by Moscow, details of which have not been made public, could be used to re-launch the talks that stalled in January.

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"Our Russian friends' suggestion could be a basis for starting talks for regional and international cooperation especially in the field of peaceful nuclear activities," Saeed Jalili, secretary general of Iran's National Security Council, told state broadcaster IRIB.

Jalili's general remarks gave no indication Iran was now prepared, unlike previously, to address what the powers see as the crucial concern -- its uranium enrichment drive, which UN inspectors say Iran has not proven is for peaceful energy only.

Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, plus Germany (known as the EU3+3 or P5+1), in Istanbul in January foundered with Iran insisting on having what it says is its right to produce nuclear fuel recognized.

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Since then, Iran has vowed to increase its enrichment activities and shift its production of higher grade fuel to an underground bunker that would be less vulnerable to a military strike.

With Israel and Washington keeping open the possibility of pre-emptive strikes on Iran to stop it getting nuclear weapons, negotiations are a possible way of avoiding what analysts say would be military action that could inflame the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US President Barack Obama in July of Moscow's "step-by-step" approach under which Iran could address questions about its nuclear program and be rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions.

"We and the six countries as seven countries can create the grounds for cooperation through this strategy," Jalili said.

While Iran plays down the "nuclear" aspect of talks, saying the negotiations are meant to cover a wide range of issues, the Western focus has always been Iran's atomic activities.

Iran says they are intended only to run a future network of civilian nuclear power plants as another source of energy for its burgeoning population so it can export more oil, and for medical and agricultural applications .

Many countries fear Iran is secretly bent on developing nuclear weapons capability, pointing to its past concealment of sensitive nuclear work and continued curbs on access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

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Any new talks are likely to focus on concerns about Iran's nuclear enrichment which a UN Security Council resolution requires it to stop but which Tehran says it is entitled to do as a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But its decision last year to raise the level of enrichment from the 3.5 percent fissile purity needed for normal power plant fuel to 20 percent worried countries that saw it as a notable step towards the 90 percent threshold needed for bombs.

The United States has cautiously welcomed Russia's overture to Iran, but says it will continue a "dual approach" of sanctions pressure and the possibility of talks. "We welcome any Russian effort to persuade Iran that it's time to change course and meet its international obligations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Monday.

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