Reuters: Russian and Iranian negotiators make a fresh bid in Moscow on Wednesday to reach a compromise that might defuse Tehran’s stand-off with the West over its nuclear programme. By Meg Clothier
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian and Iranian negotiators make a fresh bid in Moscow on Wednesday to reach a compromise that might defuse Tehran’s stand-off with the West over its nuclear programme.
Iranian officials, headed by top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, were due to meet a Russian delegation for further discussion of Moscow’s proposal to carry out uranium enrichment for the Islamic Republic on Russian soil.
Larijani’s presence, matched by that of Russian Security Council chief Igor Ivanov, put the new round of talks on a higher footing and raised hopes Iran was taking the Russian proposal seriously, something the West at times has doubted.
“We are optimistic we can agree with our Iranian partners … we think we can come to an agreement that a joint venture on the soil of the Russian Federation will be able to meet Iran’s needs fully,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told a news conference during a visit to Hungary.
Moscow sees the enrichment joint venture as a way out of confrontation, but diplomats in Europe and the United States doubt the proposal will satisfy Iran, which they suspect of covertly seeking nuclear weapons.
Although Tehran says it has a “basic” agreement with Russia about the scheme, it has refused so far to give up what it sees as its right to enrich uranium at home.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran had the right to move ahead with its uranium-enrichment programme to large-scale commercial production of nuclear fuel for power plants, but added that it was ready to seek a compromise.
“We are in a position to cooperate, reach a comprehensive compromise with all the parties … We are flexible,” he said in Tokyo on Wednesday.
Iran has said the world must recognise it should eventually be allowed to carry out enrichment domestically and in the meantime it must be able to conduct nuclear fuel research.
Mottaki said any joint venture with Russia to enrich uranium should be conducted “as short as possible”.
Tehran has repeatedly said it only wants to enrich uranium to the low grade needed to generate electricity, not to the much higher level needed for bombs.
“It sounds as if they are combining technical expert discussions with highly placed diplomatic efforts. They are making their best efforts on both sides and I take that as a good sign,” said Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Moscow Carnegie Centre and a non-proliferation expert.
There is less than a week until a March 6 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose board will discuss its latest report into Iran’s nuclear programme.
The watchdog’s report, which says it still cannot confirm there is no covert atomic activity in Iran, will then be forwarded to the United Nations Security Council.
The Council can impose sanctions but Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member, says that would achieve nothing.
Russia has strong diplomatic and commercial ties with the Islamic Republic and is building a nuclear power station at the Gulf port of Bushehr.
(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth and George Nishiyama in Tokyo)