Head of Russian atomic agency in Tehran for nuclear talks

The head of Russia's atomic energy agency launched an attempt Thursday to win acceptance of a Russian offer to conduct Iran's uranium enrichment, a compromise proposal aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with the West.

Sergei Kiriyenko arrived in Tehran on Thursday ahead of talks with Iranian officials on the proposal, seen as the last chance for averting an escalation in the nuclear issue.

Under the offer, Russia a top ally of Iran would carry out uranium enrichment on its soil for Iran to ensure that no material is diverted for a weapons program. Iran which says its nuclear program is peaceful has insisted it has the right to carry out its own enrichment, but says it is considering the deal.

"We are ready to compromise," Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters during a brief visit to Indonesia, part of an Asian tour that will take him to Thailand on Friday.

"We believe that we should move from here to compromise, not go back."

Mottaki said four issues in the Russian proposal remain unresolved, among them which countries and companies would be involved, timing and place must be resolved before his country agrees to the proposal.

The new round of diplomacy came ahead of a March 5 meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which could start a process leading to punishment of Iran before the U.N. Security Council.

China another ally of Iran was preparing to send an envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Li Guozheng, to Tehran on Friday in a last ditch effort to broker a deal before the International Atomic Energy Agency meets.

After negotiations in Moscow earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he has not lost hope. "The talks are not going easily but we are counting on reaching a positive result," he said.

"Certainly, our delegation will continue its work to try to find a diplomatic and political way out of the current situation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters ahead of the visit to Tehran by Kiriyenko, a former prime minister.

Kiriyenko held out the possibility of economic rewards if Iran solves the crisis.

"If the issue is resolved successfully, then we shall be able to advance cooperation in aircraft building, transport and some other industries where there exists a vast potential," he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Kiriyenko's first meeting with the Iranian side was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, his spokesman, Sergei Novikov, said. Kiriyenko is scheduled to visit the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia has been building and which is due to go online next year.

The confrontation escalated earlier this month, when the IAEA board of governors, including Russia, reported Iran to the Security Council and called on its government to suspend all enrichment-related activities.

European negotiators have been trying to prevent Iran from developing an enrichment program. Enrichment can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor as Iran says it intends or the material needed for a nuclear weapon, reports AP.


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