Wed, Mar 01, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Iran insists on its right to continue nuclear enrichment

AFP , MOSCOW

Iran insisted yesterday on its right to nuclear technology ahead of 11th-hour talks in Moscow aimed at heading off fears it is seeking atomic weapons, sticking to its tough line despite huge international pressure.

As an Iranian delegation prepared to fly to Moscow, a top Iranian official said that Russia's proposed compromise would only be acceptable if Tehran was allowed to continue sensitive nuclear fuel cycle "research."

It exposed significant differences between the positions of Moscow -- which says Iran must resume a moratorium on such work -- and Tehran which says that it has the right like anyone else to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

The talks in Moscow come ahead of a crunch meeting on Monday of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tehran's nuclear program, with the West pushing for UN Security Council action.

IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei said in a report on Monday to the agency's board of governors that he could not be sure what Iran's nuclear motives were as it had failed to answer crucial questions.

His report also said Iran planned to set up 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment, which can be the fuel for reactors but also the core material for nuclear weapons.

"Although the agency has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, the agency is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran," it said.

The Iranian delegation will be led by Ali Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Under Moscow's compromise, Russia would enrich uranium on Iran's behalf -- giving it the fuel for nuclear power but not the technology for a bomb.

It is seen as a final effort to avert possible international sanctions on Tehran ahead of the IAEA meeting.

But Hossein Entezami, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, said the offer "must include a guarantee that nuclear fuel will be supplied to Iran, [allows] research activities to continue and recognizes Iran's right to conduct industrial-scale research."

That is at odds with what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was saying on Monday.

"We are convinced that, among other components of this effort, a moratorium on enrichment of uranium in Iran is required," he told reporters then.

The West suspects Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

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