- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

From combined dispatches

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Washington yesterday hoping to sell a proposed compromise on Iran’s nuclear program that would permit Tehran to process small amounts of uranium on its own territory.

U.S. officials responded negatively to the idea even before Mr. Lavrov had a chance to present it at a dinner meeting last night with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Russian minister meets President Bush at the White House today.

However, the scheme produced some optimism at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of directors in Vienna, Austria, where IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he saw prospects for a solution to the Iran confrontation within a week.

Diplomats in Vienna told Agence France-Presse that the key elements of the Russian plan involve:

• Iran suspending for a short time all enrichment activities, including small-scale research it began in February.

• Iran agreeing to ratify the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for wider inspections by the IAEA.

• Iran agreeing to a long-term suspension of industrial-level enrichment activities and having uranium enriched instead in Russia, where it would not acquire the technology that is considered a “break-out capacity” for making atom bombs.

• Having the IAEA determine what would be a safe, non-proliferation level of small-scale enrichment — that is, how many centrifuge machines could be used.

The confidential proposal was thought to account for yesterday’s upbeat assessment by Mr. ElBaradei, who said he was “still very much hopeful that in the next week, an agreement could be reached” that would avoid having Iran’s program brought before the U.N. Security Council.

Russia and China voted with the majority of IAEA board members to report Iran to the council earlier this year, but insisted the council do nothing until after this week’s IAEA meetings.

The latest proposal meanwhile was driving a wedge into what had been a relatively united front on uranium enrichment, with Germany cautiously supportive and France and Britain opposed and backing the United States.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York that the United States would oppose any enrichment on Iranian soil for fear it would enable Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.

“It’s been a core element of our view and the view of the European three, and certainly of the Russian Federation, that no enrichment in Iran is permissible,” Mr. Bolton said.

He said “even small so-called ‘research’ enrichment programs could give Iran the possibility of mastering the technical deficiencies that it’s currently encountering in its program” and translate them into large-scale enrichment later.

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns struck a similar note in Washington, saying that “unless Iran does a dramatic about-face,” he expected the issue to be taken up by the Security Council.

Mr. Bolton had warned a day earlier that Iran faced “tangible and painful consequences” if it went ahead with its nuclear activities, drawing a rebuke yesterday from Mr. ElBaradei.

“Escalation is not going to help a situation that is highly volatile in the Middle East,” the IAEA chief told reporters on the sidelines of the 35-member board of governors meeting in Vienna.

“The only solution I see is a comprehensive political agreement that covers the issues,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “The earlier we get back all concerned parties to the negotiating table,” the better are the chances of finding a durable solution.

The Vienna meeting is scheduled to hear a report by Mr. ElBaradei on the Iranian program, including its decision to deny information requested by U.N. inspectors on diagrams related to nuclear weapons and other issues.

“We have not seen indication of diversion of … material to nuclear weapons or other explosive devices,” Mr. ElBaradei said.

“Unfortunately, the picture is not very clear as to the scope of the program and as to the nature of the program,” he said, alluding to documents, past experiments and activities that could be used to develop nuclear arms.

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