Iran, Russia Reach Tentative Nuclear Deal

A technician works at the nuclear power plant in the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran in Russian territory.
A technician works at the nuclear power plant in the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran in Russian territory. (By Raheb Homavandi -- Reuters)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 27, 2006

MOSCOW, Feb. 26 -- The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday that his country had agreed in principle to set up a joint uranium enrichment project with Russia, a potential breakthrough in efforts to prevent an international confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Regarding this joint venture, we have reached a basic agreement," said Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the country's nuclear chief, speaking at a news conference with his Russian counterpart in Bushehr, where Russia is helping to build a nuclear power plant. "Talks to complete this package will continue in coming days in Russia."

Among the outstanding issues is whether Iran will continue the small-scale uranium enrichment it began earlier this month, a source of growing international concern.

Russia's offer to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian territory, a proposal backed by the United States and the European Union, has been the basis of intense but previously fruitless negotiations between Moscow and Tehran. If Iran does agree to shift enrichment to Russia, Iran would cede control of a key element in the nuclear fuel cycle and ease suspicions that it could secretly produce uranium suitable for nuclear weapons.

A deal would also head off punitive action by the U.N. Security Council after a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on March 6.

Aghazadeh made it clear, however, that there was still no formal agreement and that some issues must still be resolved.

"There are different parts that need to be discussed," he said, according to Russian news agencies. "These are not just related to forming a company -- there are other elements. There are political issues, and the proposal should be seen as a package."

He added that Iran had "set a precondition," which he declined to specify.

Russian analysts following the talks said Iran wants security guarantees that it would not be attacked by the United States.

President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, was cautious about the announcement. "It's too soon to say," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "In any of these arrangements, the devil is in the details. We'll just have to see what emerges."

The announcement on Sunday followed two days of talks between Aghazadeh and Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's nuclear agency. Negotiations are expected to continue in Moscow in the next two or three days.

"I think there remain no organizational, technical or financial problems on the joint venture establishment," said Kiriyenko, but he added that "the international community must have guarantees of security and preservation of the nonproliferation regime."

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