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Russia, Iran end enrichment talks

Iranian and Russian officials have wound up faltering talks about a Kremlin offer to conduct uranium enrichment for Iran.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 15:56 IST

Iranian and Russian officials have wound up faltering talks about a Kremlin offer to conduct uranium enrichment for Iran.

The talks have been widely seen as Tehran's last chance to stave off international sanctions over suspicions that it has a covert nuclear weapons program.

An initial round of consultations between top national security officials from both countries on Monday made no visible progress, and on Tuesday experts from the Russian Foreign Ministry and atomic energy agency held discussions with the Iranian side.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has declined to label the talks a failure.

"I would be cautious about using the term 'failure' or 'setback' while the negotiations continue," he said.

Russia's offer has been backed by the United States and the European Union as the final opportunity to ease international concerns over Iran's nuclear program without seeking sanctions.

But Iran has insisted on maintaining a domestic enrichment effort.

The head of the Iranian delegation in Moscow, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Hosseinitash, took a tough stance before Monday's meeting, rejecting any link between the Russian plan and demands for Iran to restore a freeze on uranium enrichment that it broke last month.

He said that Iran did not intend to renounce its right to produce nuclear fuel domestically.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki meanwhile, reaffirmed that Tehran would continue its nuclear research, even if it accepts Russia's enrichment offer.

Experts have said that Iran would like its scientists to have access to the Russian enrichment facility, and hope to retain the right to conduct a part of the enrichment process at home.

In fact, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei recently suggested that the international community might have no choice, but to accept small-scale enrichment on Iranian soil as a condition for Tehran to agree to move its full program abroad.

But Iranian presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham, while welcoming the IAEA proposal on small-scale enrichment inside Iran as a "positive step" toward resolving the nuclear dispute, said that any restrictions on Tehran's right to access nuclear energy were unacceptable.

First Published: Feb 21, 2006 15:56 IST