February 14, 2006

Iran Sets New Date for Atomic Talks with Russia

By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN -- Iran announced on Tuesday it was deferring until next week talks with Russia on its nuclear plans, but gave no sign it was ready to stop enriching uranium on its own soil -- the key element in Moscow's plan.

Russia's proposal to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf is designed to allay world fears about Iranian scientists diverting nuclear material into bombs and to defuse a standoff that has already seen Tehran reported to the U.N. Security Council.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi said the talks would now start in Moscow on February 20.

"We still want to reach a formula to prove that we will not divert uranium enriched on Iranian soil," he told reporters.

Russia confirmed that Iran had asked to postpone the talks, originally scheduled for Thursday, until Monday.

"We are trying to agree on whether that date is acceptable for the Russian side," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said, RIA news agency reported.

Iran has already undercut the aim of Moscow's proposal by resuming uranium enrichment in underground facilities near the town of Natanz, arguing the Islamic Republic has every right to purify the uranium it mines in its central deserts.

Iranian officials have said Russia will have to alter its terms to gain Tehran's consent for its proposal.

Diplomats in Vienna, home of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Tehran wanted to spin out dialogue without committing itself to anything, calculating this could make the Security Council hesitate before taking any action against it.

Western countries suspect Iran is seeking enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons and this month persuaded the IAEA's ruling board to report Iran to the council. Iran denies it wants bombs, saying it needs atomic fuel only for power stations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference in Yerevan there was still room for Iran and Russia to discuss where enrichment would take place.

However, in the past such remarks have indicated Iran's willingness to enrich uranium jointly with Russia, not that it is ready to surrender its right to produce atomic fuel at home.


Germany and China called for diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran.

"The international community should not give up diplomatic efforts under the IAEA's framework," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "A solution through dialogue serves the interests of China, Iran and all parties concerned."

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said: "A military solution is not being discussed right now. I hope that if the international community stands together we can find a solution."

Vaeedi also confirmed that Iran had revived small-scale uranium enrichment, which it had stopped for two and a half years while negotiating with European Union powers.

"The order to resume uranium enrichment has been issued and, in accordance with that, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has restarted the process," he told reporters.

Iran's parliament passed a law in November binding the government to resume making atomic fuel and limit cooperation with the IAEA if its case went to the Security Council.

However, Vaeedi said Iran would not be able to reach industrial-scale production of atomic fuel quickly.

"We need some time to reach that level with all centrifuges because of the 2-1/2 year suspension. However, the preliminary phases have been launched," he said.

Centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning it at supersonic speed.

Diplomats said in September that Iran could have serious technical difficulties in enriching uranium on an industrial scale, which requires getting centrifuges to work in cascades.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said steps were being taken to limit U.N. observation of atomic facilities, previously allowed by Tehran when it was observing the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has not ratified the protocol.

"Since the Additional Protocol is not in force any more some of those cameras should be taken out," he told state television.

(Additional reporting by Sophie Hardach in Sestriere, Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)