Iran to set up nuclear plant in Russia
Iran's nuclear chief has said that an agreement had been reached with Moscow on Sunday to set up a joint uranium enrichment facility on Russian soil.
This deal could assuage global concerns that Tehran wants to build atomic bombs. The plan proposed by Russia is backed by the United States and European Union.
The agreement was announced after a meeting in Iran between Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko and Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the country's vice president.
The two countries "reached a basic agreement on the creation of a joint venture," Aghazadeh told a news conference.
Aghazadeh also said that the Bushehr plant was "90 per cent" complete and Iran was planning another two 1,000 megawatt units.
Bid documents, he said, would be ready within a month and Russia's close ties with Iran would be taken into account when issuing construction contracts.
"We will invite Russia and we will also be waiting for proposals from others. Naturally, because of close and strategic relations between Iran and Russia, Iran will take this into consideration when granting the project," he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors is scheduled to meet on March 6 to consider what to do about Iran's recent resumption of nuclear activity.
The meeting could start a process leading to punishment by the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions on Iran. Kiriyenko said that Russia was hoping for a solution within the IAEA.
"There is a possibility that Iran's nuclear activities can be resolved within the IAEA and since there is such a possibility, we have to take all necessary measures to achieve this," he said.
He said that the Russian-proposed joint venture, if successful, would help resolve the issue peacefully.
"Russia has made its proposal to Iran for a joint uranium enrichment venture on Russian territory. If this proposal is carried out, a good opportunity will be created. Negotiations about the creation of this venture are continuing actively," he said.
Moscow has been struggling to persuade Tehran to reinstate a moratorium on uranium enrichment and agree to shift its enrichment program to Russian territory to ease world concerns that it could divert enriched uranium to a weapons program.
Enriched uranium can be used for both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
Kiriyenko said that the joint enrichment venture in Russia was just "one of the elements in the complex of issues related to the Iranian nuclear problem."
Neither side mentioned the issue at the news conference. He said that "there were practically no technical, organisational and financial problems left" in talks on the Russian proposal.
Aghazadeh and Kiriyenko, who together visited a nuclear plant being built by Russia in the city of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, said nuclear talks would continue in Moscow over the next few days.
Also on Sunday, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi confirmed that an IAEA team was in Tehran to discuss the country's nuclear program.
Iran has denied seeking atomic weapons and more than three years of IAEA probing have failed to produce concrete evidence. The agency later discovered suspicious activity, including plutonium experiments and long-secret efforts to develop enriched uranium.
Asefi played down a secret nuclear project that US intelligence has linked to warhead design, saying information on it would be offered to the IAEA.
"We will discuss the issue, and the rumours surrounding it, with the agency. It is not very sensitive or ambiguous," Asefi said at a news conference when asked about the secret 'Green Salt Project'.
Public mention of the 'Green Salt Project' first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up earlier this month for a meeting of the agency's board of governors.
The meeting ended with the board reporting Tehran to the Security Council over concerns it could be hiding a nuclear weapons program.