TEHRAN (AFP) -A top Russian envoy is due in Iran for talks on Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme, with the world community still unable to reach consensus on how to tackle the escalating crisis.
Russian National Security Council chief Igor Ivanov is expected to hold talks with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani during his two-day visit.
His trip follows a meeting this week of senior officials from Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States — the five permanent UN Security Council members — as well as Germany — that failed to break an impasse on how to deal with Iran although progress was reported.
The major powers discussed at their meeting in London a European proposal aimed at breaking Iran’s determination to enrich uranium, a process which can be extended from making reactor fuel to nuclear weapons.
The EU proposal would combine technology, economic and other incentives for Iran with the threat of an arms embargo and other sanctions if the Islamic republic defied a UN injunction to halt enrichment.
Both Russia and China oppose talk of sanctions against Iran, which has consistently denied US claims that its nuclear programme is a cover for the development of atomic weapons.
The New York Times reported Saturday that the administration of President George W. Bush is beginning to debate whether to set aside a longstanding boycott of Iran and open direct talks to try to resolve the nuclear crisis.
Washington also said Friday it would still like to hold talks with Iran on the security situation in neighbouring Iraq, although Tehran has said it is not interested.
And Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned during a visit to Baghdad on Friday: “In the event that America launches a strike from any place, Iran will retaliate by targeting that place.”
The United States severed relations with Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution and the crisis over the seizure of American hostages and Bush in 2002 famously described Tehran as part of an “axis of evil”.
But Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said that Tehran was willing to accept a cap on its uranium enrichment capability to ensure the fuel produced is not used to develop nuclear weapons.
“This cap I think should be below 10, meaning reactor grade. Iran is prepared to put in place other measures to ensure fuel produced is not re-enriched and used for nuclear (weapons) purposes,” Javad Zarif said Friday.
Early this month, Iran announced it had managed to enrich uranium up to 4.8 percent and said it had no plans to go beyond that level as this was sufficient for making nuclear fuel to generate electricity.
A process in the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium enrichment can also make the fissile core of an atom bomb when extended to levels of purity of more than 90 percent.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the UN’s nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency, also suggested that Tehran was willing to compromise on enrichment.
“The Iranians, as far as I know, agreed in principle that for a number of years enrichment should be part of an international consortium outside of Iran,” he said Wednesday.
During a tour of Arab Gulf countries Kuwait and Qatar earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow supported the EU proposal and urged Tehran to cooperate.
Asked if Russia would back military action against Iran if the proposed negotiations collapsed, Lavrov declined to answer but insisted that Moscow does not support the use of force “in principle.”
Russia is building Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the southeast coast and has said it would honour a contract to sell TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles to Iran despite US calls to reconsider.
Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said Friday that Russia would honour the deal “except in the case of some major event” adding that “world experience shows sanctions are not efficient”.
Last year Russia offered to produce nuclear fuel on Iran’s behalf in order to ease fears Iran would divert uranium into warheads. Talks broke down when Iran insisted uranium enrichment had to be carried out on its soil.
But as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran insists it has a right to uranium enrichment and has vowed not to go back on nuclear research and development.