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Deep Rift Emerges Between West, Russia...s Views About Nuclear Iran

By Elaine Sciolino


A serious split emerged Monday between Russia and the United States and Europe on Iran’s nuclear program after the Russians floated a last-minute proposal to allow Iran to make small quantities of nuclear fuel, according to European officials.

The reports of the proposal prompted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to call Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and according to an administration official who was briefed on the conversation, “she said the United States cannot support this.”

Rice’s call came after ElBaradei suggested to reporters that the standoff with Iran could be resolved in a week or so, apparently an allusion to the Russian proposal. Washington’s strategy is to get past the meeting of the IAEA that opened Monday and, under a resolution passed by the agency’s board in February, have the issue turned over to the U.N. Security Council immediately. But officials clearly fear that the Russian proposal is intended to slow that process.

American officials said they had been assured by the Russians that there was no formal proposal on the table. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, was to have dinner in Washington on Monday evening with Rice and the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, and he is scheduled to meet President Bush in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

Under the Russian proposal, Iran would temporarily suspend all uranium enrichment activities at its facility at Natanz but then be allowed to do what Russia describes as “limited research activities” in Iran’s uranium enrichment program, said the European officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

Iran would have to agree to a moratorium on production of enriched uranium on an industrial scale for between seven to nine years, ratify additional measures that let the nuclear agency conduct intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities and create a joint venture with Russia on the production of enriched uranium on Russian soil, the officials said. The proposal, which has not been made public, spurred ElBaradei to give an upbeat assessment about a possible swift resolution of the impasse over Iran’s program, an official familiar with his thinking said.

In a tonal shift, ElBaradei said Iran had made concessions on some issues. Calling Iran’s activities at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz “the sticking point,” he added, “That issue is still being discussed this week, and I still hope that in the next week or so that agreement could still be reached.”

In an interview on Monday evening, R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said the administration would reject any proposal that did not require the Iranians to stop domestic nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities. “The United States will not support any halfway measures,” he said. “That means full suspension of all nuclear activities, and a return to negotiations on that basis.”