Iran greets German remarks on diplomatic solution

Iran on Monday welcomed the German foreign minister's statement that Berlin was committed to a diplomatic solution over Iran's nuclear program, and Russia disclosed that Tehran's top nuclear negotiator would travel to Moscow for high-level talks. The Interfax news agency, citing a Russian diplomat in Tehran, said Ali Larijani's trip to Moscow on Tuesday was on the invitation of Igor Ivanov, Russia's Security Council head, who visited Iran last fall.

Earlier Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari and encouraged Iran to adopt a position that would help ease tensions over its nuclear program.

The talks come amid a quickening in negotiations surrounding a Russian proposal to have Iranian uranium sent for enrichment in Russia then returning it to Iran for use in Iranian reactors. The proposal is aimed at overcoming concerns that Iran could enrich its own uranium to higher levels for use in nuclear weapons rather than for reactors to generate electricity.

Russia has close ties with Tehran and is building Iran's first nuclear power reactor, but has been moving closer to the Western position on Iran and is reluctant to let the issue cause a major rift in its relations with the United States and Europe.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham, meanwhile, congratulated the German foreign minister for declaring Berlin's commitment to negotiations over the brewing crisis that intensified on Jan. 10 when Tehran removed U.N. seals from its main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, central Iran. The regime then resumed research on nuclear fuel including small-scale enrichment after a 2Ѕ-year freeze.

The removal of the seals triggered alarm in Western capitals, where Iran is suspected of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop an atomic bomb.

Iran has repeatedly said it is willing to offer guarantees that its nuclear program won't be used to manufacture weapons. But it has so far refused to give up what it calls its clear treaty rights to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.

"The Germans have the right idea," Elham said.

Threats of military force against Iran, he told reporters, "have no legal basis. Iran has not done anything that violates international norms."

On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his government was committed to a diplomatic solution and cautioned against military action, and Elham said that could signal a shift in the West's position.

"It is better for them to accept Iran's nuclear right in concrete terms," Elham said.

He said Western partners know that any hostile move against Iran was "playing with fire" and will not bring positive results. Israel, which considers Iran the largest threat to its existence, and Iran, which backs and finances anti-Israeli militants, have been trading accusations and harsh words over the nuclear issue. On Sunday, Iran said an Israeli attack against Tehran's nuclear program would be a "fatal mistake."

A day earlier Israel widely believed to have nuclear weapons itself said it would not accept a nuclear-capable Iran under any circumstances and was preparing for the possible failure of diplomatic efforts.

Seeking to take the heat out of the exchange, Germany on Monday declared its confidence that Israel would not attack and had a "very realistic assessment of possible options in dealing with Iran."

"We do not have the least reason to believe that our Israeli friends will not handle this question very, very responsibly," Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said.

Last week, Germany, France and Britain drafted a resolution calling for Iran's referral to the U.N Security Council to deal with Iran's nuclear program. The resolution stopped short of calling for sanctions, reports the AP.

D.M.