Putin optimistic as Russia, Iran to resume talks

Russia's president said Tuesday that he is optimistic that his country will manage to strike an agreement with Iran over its disputed nuclear program as an Iranian delegation prepared to head to Moscow for crucial talks.

"We are optimists ... It's quite possible for us to reach an agreement on the establishment of a joint venture on Russian territory to enrich uranium for Iranian nuclear energy needs," Vladimir Putin told reporters on a visit to Hungary.

A delegation led by top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is expected to arrive in Moscow on Wednesday for key discussions on a Kremlin proposal to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian territory to ensure the nuclear fuel cannot be diverted for atomic bombs.

But the negotiations remain hamstrung over Iran's refusal to restore a freeze on its domestic uranium activities a condition that Moscow says is essential for its plan.

The International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors' meeting on Iran in set for Monday. That meeting of the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog could start a process leading to punishment by the Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions on Iran.

Moscow's offer to have Iran's uranium enrichment program in Russia has been backed by the United States and the European Union as a way to provide more assurances that Tehran's atomic program could not be diverted to build weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is only to generate power, but many in the West fear Iran is aiming to develop atomic bombs.

On Sunday, the Iranian nuclear chief said after talks with his Russian counterpart in Iran that they had agreed in principle to Moscow's enrichment plan. But Western diplomats dismissed the statement as an Iranian spin effort and an attempt to split the global community.

Reinforcing those concerns, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in an interview with the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Tuesday that Iran will not stop uranium enrichment even if it accepts Russia's offer for a joint enrichment venture.

Mottaki, in Tokyo for talks with his Japanese counterpart, said Iran had no intention of halting small-scale uranium enrichment activities for "research and development" purposes, Kyodo reported.

This was a rejection of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's call on Monday for Iran to freeze its own enrichment work.

Russia and Iran held talks last week but made little apparent progress, reports AP.


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