Iran yesterday dealt a new blow to a compromise offer from Russia on its nuclear program, saying it would only consider such a deal if it acknowledged the Islamic republic's right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil.
"As we said before, we want to have enrichment inside Iran ... and any proposal which is based on this principle will be studied," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.
"We are studying the Russian proposal based on this framework," he said. "The government will never give up its principles."
Moscow has suggested allowing Iran to conduct uranium enrichment in Russia, giving the country access to the nuclear fuel cycle while guaranteeing that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The Russian proposal seeks to overcome the key sticking point in talks between Iran and the EU over the program, which the US alleges is a cover for nuclear weapons development.
Elham's comments came after top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani criticized the Russian proposal for having "serious problems."
"It is an idea, not a structured proposal, we don't see it as mature and it has serious problems," Larijani, the secretary of the country's Supreme National Security Council, said on state television.
Iran has denied that it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb and says it is seeking only to produce electricity.
However, Larijani did not completely reject the Russians' proposal.
"The [Russian] plan could be complementary and supporting, there are technological benefits, we have to examine them. It is not rigid and there is room for maneuver," he said.
Last week, another top national security official had appeared warm to the Russian proposal when he vowed that his country would study it carefully.
Supreme National Security Council member Javad Vaidi also told the ISNA agency on Dec. 28 that the Russian proposal was based on the establishment of a "joint Iran-Russia company on Russian soil" for the enrichment of uranium.
However, he gave no indication of whether Iran was ready to drop its long-standing demand to enrich uranium on its own territory.
Russia enjoys close ties with Iran and is helping build the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran.
Iran's stance toward the Russian proposal will undoubtedly impact on fresh talks with EU negotiators, which are set to resume on Jan. 18 and are aimed at securing guarantees from Iran over Western concerns that Tehran seeks nuclear weapons.