Talks in Russia on Enriching Nuclear Fuel for Iran Seem to Be at Standstill
By Steven Lee Myers
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A Russian effort to forge a compromise over Iran’s nuclear program stalled Monday after five hours of talks in the Kremlin ended inconclusively. Negotiators for both countries agreed to hold new talks but did not announce when or where.
The discussions, already delayed several days, focused on the details of Russia’s offer to set up a joint venture to enrich uranium in Russia for Iran’s nuclear fuel.
But senior officials on both sides played down the prospects of agreement before a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on March 6 about whether Iran’s nuclear program should be forwarded to the U.N. Security Council for possible punitive action.
In Brussels, Belgium, Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, suggested that even if an agreement with Russia were achieved, it would not resolve the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
During meetings with officials of the European Union, Mottaki said that regardless of Russia’s proposal, Iran would continue its nuclear research, which the United States and other countries suspect is intended to develop nuclear weapons.
Javier Solana, the European Union’s senior diplomat for foreign policy, who met on Monday with Mottaki, said, “The ideas on the nuclear research in Tehran did not contribute to construct confidence and probably go in the opposite direction.”
After Monday’s talks in Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, called on Iran to restore a moratorium on uranium enrichment. He added that the talks would continue but that it was “premature to speak of their results.”
Moscow is determined on one hand to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but eager on the other to avoid an American-led effort to impose sanctions or to use force against a country with which Russia has close diplomatic and economic ties.
In televised remarks before Monday’s talks, Lavrov told President Vladimir V. Putin and other members of his Cabinet that Russia remained committed to finding a peaceful solution, but acknowledged that the issue was mired in “the current blind alley.”
Iran’s responses to the Russian proposal — which has been endorsed by the United States and Europe — have been contradictory. The top Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, responded positively in a visit here last month, but others, including Mottaki in his remarks on Monday, described it as inadequate.
Russian officials have shown signs of impatience, by delaying, for example, the completion of a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran, that was expected to be finished already. They have not openly criticized Iran, however. Lavrov urged Iran on Monday to take enough steps to satisfy the atomic energy agency before its general director, Mohamed ElBaradei, reports to the agency’s governing board in two weeks.