Iran Refuses Key Condition in Russia Nuclear Talks

Iranian negotiators visit Moscow for more talks about Iran's nuclear program. Last week the two sides announced they had reached a "basic" agreement on a Russian plan to end Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West. But Iran again refuses to meet a key condition that the Russians say is necessary.

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Iranian negotiators are in Moscow for talks about Iran's nuclear program. Last week, the two sides announced they had reached a basic agreement on a Russian plan to end Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West. But Iran has again refused to meet a key condition that the Russians have set.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

Russia has been touting its proposal to produce nuclear fuel for Iran as a way of defusing Western worries that oil-rich Tehran is secretly developing an atomic weapons program. Last Sunday, Iran announced it had agreed in principle to the plan, but Moscow was careful to stress there was no final deal.

Speaking in Hungary today, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was still optimistic a compromise could be reached.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Through translator) It's fully possible to agree to form a joint venture to enrich uranium on Russian territory for Iran's nuclear energy needs.

FEIFER: Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, met Russian officials in a downtown hotel this afternoon for a third round of talks about the proposal. Before the meeting, Larijani repeated Tehran's rejection of Russia's main condition, a moratorium on Iran's own nuclear fuel production.

Today's talks come at a critical time. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, is scheduled to meet on March 6 to discuss the issue. It's expected to send a report to the United Nations Security Council. Washington and the three major European Union States, Britain, France and Germany, are prepping for sanctions against Iran.

After today's session, the Iranians again insisted that a general agreement had been reached. But the Russian side said there were still many questions to be settled in future negotiations. Many experts believe Tehran was using today's talks only to drag out its confrontation with the west over its nuclear program. Georgy Mirsky of Moscow's Institute of World Economy and International Relations said he never expected anything to come of the negotiations.

Mr. GEORGY MIRSKY (Institute of World Economy and International Relations): I am absolutely certain that Iran is out to produce an atomic bomb, or to reach a stage of technological developments which makes it possible for it to produce a bomb at very short notice.

FEIFER: Mirsky says Iran doesn't really want to have the bomb as much as use its nuclear weapons program to bid for great power status. He says keeping the West guessing over its nuclear arms capability enables Iran to occupy the center of the international stage.

Moscow has concerns about its economic interests in Iran, where it's building an $800 million nuclear power plant. The Kremlin hopes to land a contract for two more reactors worth a potential two billion dollars.

But Mirsky says Russia's main motivation in hosting today's talks is to promote its own role in foreign affairs.

Mr. MIRSKY: If it will be able actually to make Iran agree to our proposal, then Russia will score several important points. Russia will be posturing as a heavyweight, as a country that can actually save the world from a huge international crisis or maybe a catastrophe. So it's very important.

FEIFER: Russia doesn't seem worried about appearing to be the subject of Iranian manipulation. Yevgenia Yuvcief (ph) of the Moscow Carnegie Center says even if Moscow is motivated by showing up the west, its dialogue with Iran is more practical than western attempts to isolate it.

Mr. YEVGENA YUCIEF (Moscow Carnegie Center): (Through Translator) It's necessary to conduct negotiations with Iran. Using the threat of force is the worst possible option. We have to talk with the Iranians even if economic sanctions are enacted.

FEIFER: But the Kremlin's chances of long term success look slim. The IAEA report leaked this week, says Tehran is obstructing its efforts to probe its nuclear energy program, which has the potential to give it atomic weapons. Analysts say despite Russia's efforts to continue negotiations, it won't use its veto in the Security Council, and that means sanctions are all but certain.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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