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Iran: Nuclear Talks With Russia Postponed
By Wade German
Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

Iran today delayed talks on a Russian offer to enrich Iran's uranium on Russian territory. Russia's proposal will, it is hoped, allay fears that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. However, the postponement comes amid reports that Iran has already begun to enrich uranium and a day after Iran's president suggested Tehran could pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

PRAGUE, 13 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iran has postponed talks on a Russian offer to enrich Iran's uranium in Russia. The decision comes a day after Iran's president warned Tehran could withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said the negotiations in Moscow had not been cancelled, but said that the date of the talks, which had been scheduled for 16 February, "should be discussed."

"The question of negotiations is still open and the time of the negotiations is another issue," Elham said. "These will take place in view of the new circumstances that were created and the [Iranian] government's determination to seriously pursue a peaceful [uranium-] enrichment program inside the country. We believe that the [Russian] plan needs to be adjusted according to the Islamic Republic's policies and we are pursuing this aspect."

Elham gave no details about the "new circumstances." He added that Tehran will only accept Russia's plan as a supplement to enrichment activities inside Iran.

Elham's announcement came after Iran's Foreign Ministry said repeatedly that the talks in Moscow would be held on the planned date.

Meanwhile, AFP and Reuters quoted diplomats in Vienna as saying that Iran has already begun the process of enriching uranium.

Last Attempt To Break Deadlock

Russia's offer to enrich Iranian uranium is an attempt to allay Western fears that Iran could be seeking to produce nuclear weapons. The European Union and the United States have given Russia's proposal conditional and cautious support.

Moscow's proposal has been widely regarded as a realistic way of ending the diplomatic deadlock over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak responded to the postponement by saying that he hoped the talks would go forward, adding that Moscow is still ready to receive Iranian officials on 16 February.

Tehran's stance in the dispute has toughened since 4 February, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program.

The IAEA 'Tool'

Iran's government has been arguing that Western powers are using the IAEA as a political foil against Tehran's ambitions. Speaking on 12 February, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi urged the world not to use the UN's nuclear watchdog as a political tool.

"We will act based on our responsibilities within the framework of the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and the safeguards agreement," Assefi said. "We plead that the world should not be allowed to use the International Atomic Energy Agency as a political power to pressure certain countries including Iran."

Speaking on 11 February at a rally celebrating the 27th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad suggested that Iran could pull out of the NPT altogether.

"The Islamic Republic's policy has been to follow its nuclear efforts in the framework of the [International Atomic Energy] Agency and the NPT. However, if we find out they are going to take advantage of these regulations to destroy the rights of the Iranian people, you should know that the Iranian nation will reconsider its policy," Ahmadinejad said.

The NPT was established to promote cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, as well as to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. It also works toward scaling back existing nuclear arsenals. The treaty has nearly 190 signatories, Iran included. Signatories agree not to seek nuclear weapons and in return can receive international help to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Withdrawing from the NPT would allow a country to develop nuclear energy, and possibly nuclear weapons, without inspections. The first country to pull out of the NPT was North Korea in early 2003. Some states that have nuclear weapons, such as India and Pakistan, have never signed the treaty. (compiled from agency reports).