(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran denied on Sunday that it had received from Russia a proposal for moving its uranium enrichment facilities to Russian territory, a compromise Europe is seeking to resolve controversy over Iran's nuclear program.
Russia announced a day earlier that it had formally put the proposal to Teheran. Iran has so far insisted it would not agree to moving enrichment abroad, and it was not clear if Teheran's denial was an attempt to gain time without directly rejecting a proposal from Moscow, a longtime ally.
"We have not received any particular plan yet," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. "Its quite clear that Iran will positively look at any proposal that recognize right of having nuclear enrichment on its soil."
Asefi underlined that Iran and Russia enjoy positive mutual relations and understandings in many fields.
Uranium enrichment is a key step in the nuclear process, producing either fuel for a reactor or the material needed for a warhead. The Europeans want enrichment moved to Russia to ensure Iran cannot divert uranium for a weapons program.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is peaceful, aimed only at generating electricity, but it has insisted it has the right to develop the entire nuclear fuel processs - including enrichment - on its own territory.
Negotiators from Germany, France and Britain held a new round of talks with the Iranians on Wednesday after a five-month break, achieving no progress but agreeing to hold further negotiations in January.
Tensions have been mounting between Iran and the West, with the UN nuclear watchdog agency saying it is growing impatient with Tehran's resistance to European proposals. At the same time, Europe and the United States have expressed outrage by recent comments by Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for Israel to be destroyed and calling the Nazi Holocaust a "myth."
On Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said it formally proposed to Iran to move its uranium enrichment facilities to Russian territory.
In the diplomatic note sent to Iran's government, Russia's Foreign Ministry said "an earlier Russian offer to Iran to establish a joint Russian-Iranian enrichment venture in Russia remains valid. The Russian Embassy in Tehran delivered the note."
Asefi praised this week's negotiations, saying the agreement to continue was "a kind of progress."
"It means the parties see a room for future. If Europe respects Iran's rights then there will be more room," he said.
Washington is pushing for Tehran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council, where it could face economic sanctions over the dispute.
But Russia and China, which have vetoes on the council, oppose referral and the West has stopped short of forcing the matter.
Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Iran in a deal that has drawn strong U.S. criticism.
Iran's enrichment program is viewed with suspicion because the country hid that work from UN inspectors for nearly two decades before its secret nuclear activities were revealed nearly three years ago.
Since then, a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, has unearthed Iranian experiments, blueprints and equipment that either have "dual-use" applications or seem to have no nonmilitary function. That has further added to concerns, even though no firm evidence of a weapons program has been found.