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Iran Reaches 'Basic Agreement' With Russia


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Iran Reaches 'Basic Agreement' With Russia


By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press WriterSun Feb 26, 10:26 AM ET

Iran's nuclear chief said an agreement was reached with Moscow on Sunday to set up a joint uranium enrichment facility on Russian soil, a deal that could assuage global concerns that Tehran wants to build atomic bombs.

The plan proposed by Russia is backed by the United States and European Union.

The agreement was announced after a meeting between Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko and Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the country's vice president.

The two countries "reached a basic agreement on the creation of a joint venture (to enrich uranium)," Aghazadeh told a news conference.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors is scheduled to meet March 6 to consider what to do about Iran's recent resumption of nuclear activity. The meeting could start a process leading to punishment by the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by Russian media as saying Moscow will continue its talks with Iran until the March 6 IAEA board meeting in an effort to resolve the crisis.

Moscow has been struggling to persuade Tehran to reinstate a moratorium on uranium enrichment and agree to shift its enrichment program to Russian territory to ease world concerns it could divert enriched uranium to a weapons program. Enriched uranium can be used for both nuclear energy and weapons.

Kiriyenko said Moscow would insist on resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute within the IAEA, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported. Russia is one of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power over any resolution.

Russia has said its enrichment offer was contingent on Iran reinstating the moratorium on domestic enrichment, but Iran has rejected such a link and in the past insisted on its right to enrich uranium domestically.

Kiriyenko was quoted by Russian media as saying the joint enrichment venture in Russia was just "one of the elements in the complex of issues related to the Iranian nuclear problem."

After several days of talks with Iranian officials, Kiriyenko said "negotiations weren't going simply and easily." But he was quoted as saying that "there were practically no technical, organizational and financial problems left" in talks on the Russian proposal.

Aghazadeh and Kiriyenko, who together visited a nuclear plant being built by Russia in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr, said nuclear talks would continue in Moscow over the next few days.

Also, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi confirmed than an IAEA team was in Tehran to discuss the country's nuclear program.

Iran has denied seeking atomic weapons and more than three years of IAEA probing have not produced concrete evidence to the contrary. But the agency discovered suspicious activity, including plutonium experiments and long-secret efforts to develop enrich uranium.

Asefi played down a secret nuclear project that U.S. intelligence has linked to warhead design, saying it would offer information on it to the IAEA.

"We will discuss the issue, and the rumors surrounding it, with the agency. It is not very sensitive or ambiguous," Asefi told reporters at a news conference when asked about the secret "Green Salt Project."

Public mention of the "Green Salt Project" first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up earlier this month for a meeting of the agency's board of governors. The meeting ended with the board reporting Tehran to the Security Council over concerns it could be hiding a nuclear weapons program.

Asefi reiterated that Iran would continue its nuclear fuel research activities and would not give in its rights under pressure and "bullying language."

He said his country expects the next IAEA board session to be held on a "nonpolitical, independent and professional" basis.


Associated Press reporter Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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