Russia, Iran End Talks Without Nuclear Deal

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 2, 2006

MOSCOW, March 1 -- Talks between Russia and Iran on a proposal to enrich uranium on Russian soil for Iran's nuclear industry ended inconclusively Wednesday night. Both sides said discussions would continue but couldn't say when.

Iranian officials repeated earlier statements that they generally accepted the Russian proposal but still insist on the right to conduct some enrichment in Iran.

"The process of enrichment is the sovereign right of any country," Ali Larijani, Iran's chief negotiator, told reporters after nearly five hours of talks at a Moscow hotel. "You should not take away this right from nations which have a peaceful nuclear program."

The United States and the European Union, which back Russia's efforts, fear that uranium enriched in Iran would be secretly used to develop nuclear weapons. Moving the process to Russian soil would help allay those concerns.

Iran denies any intention to make bombs, saying the uranium would be used for electric power generation.

After a moratorium of more than two years, Iran last month announced that it had resumed uranium enrichment. It took the step following a vote by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to report the country to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.

Barring a deal with Iran before the next IAEA meeting on Monday, the Security Council may start considering punitive measures against Iran. It remains unclear whether Russia and China, which both hold permanent seats on the council, would be prepared to support sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Iran to abandon its ambition to enrich uranium in Iran. "I do believe that a compromise that would not allow any violations of the nonproliferation agreement is possible," Lavrov said in Budapest, where he was accompanying President Vladimir Putin on a state visit.

"What is necessary is for Iran to come back to the moratorium," he said, "to accept the joint venture proposal as a package that would be supported by the members of the governors' board of the IAEA."

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