Russia: Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister, praises plan to enrich Iranian nuclear fuel in Russia

Russia's foreign minister on Saturday praised a plan to enrich Iranian nuclear fuel in Russia as a way to defuse the crisis surrounding Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.

Sergey Lavrov confirmed that the foreign enrichment plan was one of a number of proposals on the table. Germany, along with France and Britain, has tried to engage Iran on a plan that would move its nascent uranium enrichment program to Russia.

"We consider this is an absolutely workable idea and it could permit us to find a comprehensive, generally acceptable package of agreements that would become a reliable solution of the Iranian problem and aid in restoring confidence in this question," Lavrov said after a meeting with Germany's new foreign minister.

Under the plan floated by some diplomats for moving any Iranian enrichment to Russia, Moscow would supervise the process to make sure enrichment is only to fuel levels. Iran, however, insists it wants to master the complete fuel cycle domestically.

Russia, a key Iranian ally, has resisted efforts to bring Tehran before the U.N. Security Council, insisting that the disputes be resolved through the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The United States suspects the Iranian program is a cover for building nuclear weapons.

Russia had been in close consultations with the three European countries negotiating with Iran on behalf of the European Union, as well as with the United States and Iran itself, Lavrov said.

"This gives the possibility of resuming negotiations between the European troika and Iran, which the Europeans have said they want, and Iran is ready for this," he said. "We hope that negotiations will resume in the nearest future."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on Iran to show "wisdom and reasonableness," and said any nuclear ambitions Tehran had should be limited to research.

"We expect Iran to recognize that it is necessary to return to the route of negotiations," he said. "We see good chances for successful common results at the next round."

Steinmeier's discussions in Moscow were the first top-level meeting between German and Russian officials since the election of the new Berlin government. It will also be a test of whether German-Russian relations will cool under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had a close friendship with Merkel predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, reassured Steinmeier that bilateral ties remained at a high level, and he hoped that would continue. He said he and Merkel would likely meet in mid-January in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Steinmeier told the Russian leader that Merkel's visit underscores the significance of the two countries' ties. "I hope our strategic relationship is not only maintained but also achieves high significance," he said.

The issue of natural gas supplies was also on the agenda. In September, Putin and Schroeder signed a major deal to build a Baltic Sea gas pipeline that would bypass current pipeline routes through Poland and the Baltic states, which have objected vehemently to the plans. Russia and Germany had agreed that the new pipeline would not result in reducing the flowing of gas through existing pipelines, Lavrov said, and he downplayed Poland's objections.

"It is all very simple, really: Russia has the gas. In Germany and other West European countries we have a buyer, and we agreed how to sell and supply this gas in the most efficient and cheapest way," Lavrov said. "There were no secret agreements here, we are contributing to the long-term energy security of Europe, and it was in this context that this project was discussed and will be implemented", reported AP.

Russia supplies a third of Germany's gas and a quarter of Europe's. P.T.

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