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Iran Postpones Talks With Russia On Resuming Uranium Enrichment

By Nazila Fathi
and Mark Landler


Iran announced Monday that it had postponed talks to let Russia enrich its uranium, a proposal that Russia had offered as a way to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran also signaled that it was resuming the enrichment of uranium at one of its main nuclear sites, according to diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

The enrichment move, while not unexpected, intensifies Iran’s confrontation with the West over its nuclear ambitions, two weeks after the agency’s 35-nation board voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council. Iran’s hardening stance seemed to close off some options for diplomacy.

In Tehran, a government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, said during a weekly news conference that the Russian talks had been postponed because of the “new situation.”

The talks were to resume on Thursday on a proposal by Moscow to enrich Iranian uranium in Russia up to low level to allay international concerns that Iran might try to make a nuclear bomb. The plan was supported by the United States, Europe and China.

Elham said talks with Russia had not been canceled but the date should be discussed. “The date of the talks, considering the new situation and the government’s plans to pursue peaceful nuclear program inside the country, should be examined and we are following the matter,” the student news agency ISNA quoted him as saying.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksei A. Sazonov, said Moscow was not yet sure “whether this is a disruption or postponement of the talks.”

“In any case we still have three days before the 16th,” he said in a telephone interview.

The governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including Russia, passed the resolution to report Iran to the Security Council for possible penalties over its nuclear program. But the resolution gave Iran until March to halt its research and development program.

As for the enrichment, “The IAEA has gotten signals that they’re going to do it,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “The only question is: How much, and how many machines?”

Depending on its level of purity, enriched uranium can be used either to produce electricity or as fuel for a bomb. Iran’s initial enrichment, at the Natanz plant, is expected to be on a small scale, involving a few centrifuge machines, capable of producing a small amount of enriched fuel.

Nuclear experts say it would take several years for Iran to develop the capacity to enrich uranium on a large scale. But the Iranian government seems determined not to lose time, dimming the faint hopes of diplomats that Iran might be conciliatory before the issuance of the agency’s report.

Inspectors from the agency were scheduled to visit Natanz on Tuesday, as part of a tour of Iran’s nuclear sites. Their findings will become part of a report on Iran’s activities that the agency’s director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, will deliver to the board early next month.