Iran says Moscow agrees to more countries joining plan to enrich uranium in Russia

Tehran and Moscow have agreed to expand the number of countries taking part in the plan to enrich Iranian uranium in Russia, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Saturday.

"Increasing the number of partners in the plan was agreed," Mottaki told a news conference. "The place or the places ... is under review while negotiations continue."

He refused to elaborate on what country or countries might be included. However, a top Iranian nuclear official was just in Beijing to discuss the Russian plan, which is designed to ensure that Tehran does not attempt to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

Under the plan, Iran would enrich uranium on Russian soil. That would, in theory, satisfy the world that Iran was using the process only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Tehran claims its nuclear program is designed only for civilian purposes. The United States and Europe fear the Iranians are using the program as a cover to make nuclear weapons.

Uranium that is sufficiently enriched can produce the materials for those weapons.

Mottaki also said Iran needs more time to conclude its negotiations with Europe over its disputed nuclear program. After Iran broke U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency seals on its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz earlier this month, Britain, France and Germany _ who had been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program _ said further talks were pointless.

The United States is pressing for the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council, where Tehran could face sanctions, for alleged violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran contends it is within its rights to control the full nuclear fuel cycle from mining uranium to enriching it for nuclear power generation.

" Discussions with Europeans in their capitals and in Vienna were continuing, and we hope they reach a satisfactory conclusion," Mottaki said. "I think there is need for more time to continue the negotiations _ until March."

British officials will hold talks Monday with the deputy of Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani before a looming decision on whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for breaking the seals on its nuclear facilities, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

"The problem is one of Iran's own making," Straw said at the forum in Davos, Switzerland. "What we have said is they have to provide objective guarantees that their nuclear capability is solely for civil nuclear power purposes. ... What we want to see is them coming forward and then we can get to a normalization, plenty of incentives and all the rest.", AP reported. V.A.

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