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US, EU tentatively back Russian atom plan for Iran
Updated: 2005-11-11 09:08

A Russian plan aimed at satisfying the world that Tehran's atomic aims are peaceful has won tentative backing from the United States and the European Union's top powers, diplomats said on Thursday.

Under the proposal, supported by France, Britain and Germany, known as the EU3, and Washington, Iran would keep part of its atomic fuel production program if the most sensitive part, uranium enrichment, was scrapped and moved to Russia, diplomats say.

U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who supports the compromise, said he hoped a deal would be reached soon.

"He hopes that in the coming days the international community will be able to coalesce around a solution that is acceptable to all parties, including Iran," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement.

Diplomats, however, were skeptical that Iran would join the proposed Russian joint venture, as that would mean Tehran renouncing enrichment, which it says it will never do.

Enrichment purifies uranium for use as fuel in power plants or, if it is enriched further, for use in bombs.

"What ElBaradei said may be wishful thinking," an EU3 official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Perhaps the Iranians will make a deal with us, but I think we will be surprised if that happens."

Tehran denies accusations from Washington that it is trying to build nuclear weapons under cover of its atomic power program. It has so far made no clear response to the recent Russian proposal.


The details of a proposal were, however, still being negotiated, diplomats said.

"There is no U.S.-European proposal to the Iranians. I want to say that categorically," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters en route from Washington to the Middle East.

"We are doing what we have been doing for some time which is keeping diplomatic partners apprised of their thinking about the future of their negotiations with the Iranians," she added.

A diplomat familiar with U.S.-IAEA discussions said Washington had made clear that it wanted Iran to react to any proposal by an IAEA board of governors meeting on November 24.

The Americans "have said they want the Iranians to take action by the meeting, not just on this proposal but on all the issues of non-compliance covered at the previous meeting," he said.

Under the Russian plan, Iran could continue with uranium conversion, the step before enrichment -- something the West had previously wanted Iran to renounce too.

Talks between the EU3 and Iran collapsed in August after Iran resumed conversion activities.

Senior EU3 officials met Russian and Chinese envoys in Vienna on Thursday, an EU3 official said.

The head of South Africa's delegation to the IAEA said if Iran accepted an offer, other states would back the plan.

"If Iran agrees, then everybody will support it," Abdul Minty told Reuters.

ElBaradei said he was prepared to go to Tehran if it helped.

"Dr ElBaradei has a standing invitation to visit Iran, and while he has no plans to do so at present, he is ready to travel to Iran at an appropriate time if it will help facilitate a solution," the IAEA statement added.

Germany's designated foreign minister made it clear the European powers still did not trust the Islamic republic. He said Tehran was not being fully open with U.N. inspectors about its nuclear program and may still be hiding something.

"There is a lack of transparency. That is clear," Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin. "We still have some suspicions that there are developments being pursued (by Iran) that go against this principle."

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