Iran Says Nuke Program 'Irreversible,' But Continues Maneuvering

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

Moscow ( - Iran on Sunday reiterated that it would ignore U.N. Security Council demands to freeze uranium enrichment at home.

"Iran's uranium enrichment activities are irreversible," said foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi. "The issue of suspension is not on our agenda."

Nevertheless, the Iranian government still claims to be interested in a Russian compromise proposal that could break an international deadlock by enabling Iran to enrich uranium in Russia.

One day earlier, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had a "basic agreement" with Russia to enrich uranium on Russian soil, but added that details had yet to be worked out.

Speaking to participants at a security conference in Moscow, Ali Asghar Soltanieh suggested that there were merely some technical, legal and financial matters requiring more discussion before the deal was settled.

He also said that Iran would "continue its full cooperation" with the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The IAEA and member countries, on several occasions, have questioned Iran's willingness to cooperate fully with the agency.

The compromise arrangement offered earlier by Moscow would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a facility in Russia, but not at home, where the U.S. and other countries suspect the civilian nuclear program is a cover for attempts to develop a weapons capability.

Asefi claimed that Russia's offer was "still on the table," a stance that flies in the face of the prerequisite that Iran stop all enrichment inside Iran.

"Iran's adherence to the demands put forward by the IAEA is a necessary condition for the creation of a joint Russian-Iranian uranium enrichment venture," Russian nuclear agency head Sergei Kiriyenko stressed earlier.

Almost a month ago the Security Council gave Iran 30 days in which to freeze enrichment, but with time running out, Iran has given no indication of being willing to end its defiance.

Nonetheless, Russia at the weekend repeated its opposition to the imposition of sanctions or other punitive steps against Iran, saying it would first want to see hard evidence that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

"Sanctions can be discussed only when there are concrete facts showing that Tehran's nuclear activity is not exclusively peaceful," said foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin.

"Concerns of the international community over the Iranian nuclear program can not be addressed through sanctions and use of force."

Moscow also is resisting U.S. calls to stop conventional weapons sales to Iran.

"There are no circumstances that raise obstacles to fulfillment of our obligations in military technical cooperation with Iran," said the deputy head of Russia's security council, Nikolai Spassky.

"This means fulfilling all obligations, including obligations on delivery to Iran of the Tor-M1 air defense system," Spassky said

Russia plans to sell Iran $900 million worth of the anti-aircraft missiles.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said last week the U.S. believed it was "time for countries to use their leverage" by banning the sale to Iran of arms or "dual use" technology that could be used in both civilian or military nuclear programs.

Earlier in the week, Burns met here with counterparts from Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada - members of the Security Council and G-8 -- but no consensus was reached on what to do about Iran.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China, both with significant commercial interests in Iran, continue to oppose U.N. sanctions.

On Saturday, Iran's Soltanieh announced in Moscow that Tehran would issue tenders next month for two additional nuclear power stations.

Russia is already helping Iran build one reactor near the southern port city of Bushehr, and Iranian officials hinted earlier that Russia may have the opportunity to build more.

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