Iranian nuclear negotiator welcomes Russia

Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Wednesday that Tehran saw Moscow's offer to have Iran's uranium enriched in Russia as a positive development but no agreement has been reached. Chief negotiator Ali Larijani also reiterated Iran's threat to renew enrichment activities if it is referred to the United Nations Security Council.

After talks with Russian Security Council chief Igor Ivanov, which included discussion of the plan to enrich uranium in Russia, Larijani told a news conference: "Our view of this offer is positive, and we are trying to bring the positions of the sides closer." "This plan can be perfected in the future, during further talks that will be held in February," he said, speaking through a translator.

Larijani suggested that it would take some time to work out details of Russia's proposal. Some critics allege that the Iranians are using the proposal to stall for time as diplomatic pressure on Tehran mounts over its alleged nuclear weapons program. "There are lots of details surrounding this offer that must be examined," Larijani said.

On Tuesday, Larijani and Ivanov said in a joint statement that Tehran's nuclear standoff must be resolved through the U.N. atomic watchdog agency's diplomatic efforts. The statement reflected Russia's efforts to delay Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council and Moscow's opposition to international sanctions against Tehran.

"Both sides expressed their desire to solve the issue in a diplomatic way within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Russia's Security Council said after the two met. Iran has warned that IAEA referral to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear ambitions would lead it to move forward with a full-scale uranium enrichment program, a possible precursor to making atomic weapons.

High-level diplomacy has intensified with little more than a week to go until the Feb. 2 meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board. Prior to that session, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend an international conference in London on Jan. 31 focusing on Afghanistan, but department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice is expected to use the meeting to have discussions with key nations on Iran's nuclear program.

The New York Times reported that the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council Britain, France, Russia and China, in addition to the United States as well as Germany would attend the meeting.

Moscow has proposed having Iran's uranium enriched in Russia, then returned to Iran for use in the country's reactors a compromise that could provide more oversight and ease tensions. Haggling has continued over the specifics of the proposal, including Tehran's proposal to have China involved in the Russian enrichment process.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw urged Tehran on Tuesday to seriously consider Russia's offer to enrich Iran's uranium in an effort to end the standoff.

Straw also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he hoped the IAEA would refer the matter to the Security Council. The West fears Iran wants to develop a nuclear bomb, but Tehran says its intentions are peaceful and that it wants only civilian nuclear energy, reports the AP. N.U.