Iran Presents More Hurdles to Russian Bid to Defuse Nuclear Issue

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Moscow ( - A third round of talks ended Wednesday without a breakthrough on a Russian proposal to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil. The idea is to limit the quantities of enriched uranium available to Iran.

Russia proposed the compromise deal in an effort to ease international concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Tehran at the weekend said it had agreed "in principle" with the proposal, but on Wednesday it once again refused to accept a Russian precondition that Iran first return to a moratorium on enriching uranium.

The enrichment process produces fuel that can be used in both civilian and military nuclear applications.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Iran did not intend to give up the right to enrich uranium itself, even if a deal was reached on a "joint venture" based in Russia for uranium enrichment.

Speaking after some four hours of talks with Russian officials, he said "the process of enrichment is a sovereign right of any state," adding that "states that have a peaceful nuclear program must not be deprived of this right."

But Iran's stance differs from that of Moscow. Speaking in Hungary, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Iran must return to its earlier moratorium on enrichment if progress was to be made by March 6.

That's when the IAEA's governing board will meet in Vienna. The IAEA is likely to press for the U.N. Security Council to take steps against Iran -- possibly leading to sanctions -- in line with a previous board resolution.

Even before the talks in Russia, Larijani had rebuffed calls to suspend enrichment, declaring that "a moratorium is needed when there is something dangerous, but all of our activities are transparent."

IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei will present to the board on Monday a report that is believed to challenge that claim of Iranian transparency.

Wire service reports say ElBaradei's report will say that a lengthy IAEA investigation has not confirmed the existence of a secret nuclear weapons program, but that because of an absence of sufficient cooperation from Iran it could also not rule it out.

More talks with Russian officials are due Thursday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Larijani's stance on the moratorium was "a move in the wrong direction."

"That's one of the reasons why, after having tried to resolve this issue through negotiations and through a good and reasonable proposal from Russia, we're having to go to the Security Council."

Russian media commentators continue to express skepticism about Iranian tactics.

The official RIA-Novosti news agency said Wednesday was Iran apparently intended to challenge the IAEA by refusing to give up the right to enrich uranium itself.

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