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Iran Softens on Russia's Uranium Proposal
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Iran on Thursday softened its stance on a Russian proposal that the Islamic Republic's uranium enrichment project be transferred to Russia, but hard-liners still insisted that Moscow is just welcome to participate in, rather than host, Iran's enrichment program.

Chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted by state television as saying that Moscow's proposal is considerable but contains some ambiguities to be clarified.

"The Russian proposal over Iran's uranium enrichment program is considerable, but it has some problems and ambiguities to be clarified in future talks," Larijani said during a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov.

State television also said that Ivanov would send his deputy to Tehran soon to discuss the proposal.

Larijani's comments showed a more flexible attitude than that of his deputy Javad Vaidi on Wednesday.

Vaidi said Iran was ready to "study" Moscow's proposal because Tehran had found that the proposal did not deny Iran's right to enrich uranium and could be viewed as an exchange of nuclear technology between signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"The Russian proposal is based on the establishment of a joint Iran-Russia company on Russian soil for enrichment of uranium...it can be studied, so that its economic, technical and scientific aspects will be clear," Vaidi told local media.

The Russian proposal, firstly revealed in November but soon rejected by Tehran, is aimed to defuse a looming crisis over the Iranian nuclear issue by securing Iran's right to enrich uranium as well as providing what the European Union (EU) and the United States have asked for as objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear research will not be diverted to military usage.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided on Nov. 24 to postpone a previously threatened referral of Iran's case to the UN Security Council in order to give extra time for the EU and Tehran to discuss Russia's proposal.

The EU, which has been acting as a broker of the Iranian nuclear issue since 2003, is currently pressing Tehran on the Russian proposal.

Uranium enrichment is a key step for nuclear fuel cycle construction. Enriched uranium can be used for both generating electricity and building nuclear weapons.

The Russian Foreign Ministry formally informed the Islamic Republic of the proposal on Saturday and Vyacheslav Moshkalo, a consul in the Russian Embassy in Tehran, has said that Moscow is waiting for Tehran's reply.

Iran said previously that the whole process of its uranium enrichment must be held in its own territory, arguing that it was a legal right enshrined by the NPT.

This idea still prevails in the Islamic Republic, especially among hard-liners.

Alaeddin Borujerdi, the Majlis (Parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Committee chairman, also said on Thursday that the Russian proposal was just "partially acceptable".

"Iran was willing to cooperate with Russia and other countries in the nuclear sector, but could not accept Russia's offer to host Iranian uranium enrichment facilities," Borujerdi, an active representative of the ultra-hardline faction, was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying.

On Tuesday, Borujerdi termed Russia's proposal as a "positive response to Iran's call for partnership with other states in its civilian nuclear program," but stressed Tehran's position of enrichment at home.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham said on Monday that Iran welcomes Russia and other countries to participate in its uranium enrichment program but the cooperation must be based on Iran's principles of uranium enrichment inside the country.

Tehran and the EU are scheduled to hold a new round of talks on Jan. 18 to exchange views on some key points, with Russia's proposal high on the agenda, and it has been predicted that a failure of the next round of negotiations will lead to EU's referral of Iran's case to the UN Security Council, which may in turn brew an actual crisis.

The United States accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons secretly, a charge rejected by Tehran as politically motivated.

(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2005)

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