- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

TEHRAN — Iran said it was studying a proposal by Russia that the two nations enrich uranium in Russian territory in its most conciliatory remarks yet on the offer, though it insisted yesterday on its right to carry out enrichment at home.

The proposal, backed by the Europeans and the United States, is aimed at getting Iran to move uranium enrichment completely out of its territory to ensure that its nuclear program cannot produce weapons. Enrichment can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.

“Russia’s proposal is to set up a joint Iranian-Russian company to enrich uranium in Russian territory,” said Javad Vaidi, Iran’s top nuclear policy negotiator.

The Russian proposal puts Iran in a difficult position, because it repeatedly has refused to give up enrichment but is reluctant to directly reject an offer from Moscow, a longtime ally that is putting the finishing touches on the first nuclear power plant in southern Iran.

The proposal “will be reviewed seriously and enthusiastically,” Mr. Vaidi said in a written interview with the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.

The Europeans are hoping the compromise can bring a breakthrough in deadlocked negotiations aimed at ensuring that Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons. Talks between Iran and Britain, France and Germany resumed earlier this month, making little progress, and are to continue next month.

Washington is pushing for Tehran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council, where it could be hit with economic sanctions over the dispute. Russia and China, which have vetoes on the council, oppose referral, and the West has stopped short of forcing the matter.

Mr. Vaidi said the Russian proposal has to be seen in the context of an exchange of nuclear technology between countries that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “An important factor will be the amount of Iranian share in the project,” he said.

He insisted that the proposal cannot deny Iran its rights under the nuclear treaty, including the right to carry out its own uranium enrichment.

“Whatever meaning the Russian proposal may have, it won’t mean … denying Iran its treaty rights,” he said.

Mr. Vaidi is deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the country’s top security decision-making body, which handles the nuclear negotiations.

The nuclear program is regarded as a source of national pride in Iran.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that it was wrong to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear technology because Iran has achieved proficiency in the cycle of nuclear fuel — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it.

On Tuesday, the Bush administration sanctioned nine foreign companies, six of them in China, for selling missile goods and chemical arms material to Iran.

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