Image: Ali Larijani
Sergey Ponomarev  /  AP
Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani arrives for talks in Moscow on Wednesday. Larijani insists his nation's nuclear plans are peaceful.
updated 3/1/2006 4:11:38 PM ET 2006-03-01T21:11:38

Russia and Iran ended Wednesday’s round of crucial talks on a Kremlin proposal to enrich uranium for Tehran without achieving any breakthrough, but negotiators agreed to meet again Thursday, Russian news agencies reported.

The chief Iranian nuclear negotiator also said his country did not intend to agree to Russian demands to impose another moratorium on uranium enrichment activity, the Interfax agency reported.

“I want to say that the process of enrichment is the sovereign right of any country,” Interfax quoted Ali Larijani as saying. “You should not take away this right from nations which have a peaceful nuclear program.”

He added that both nations agreed to meet again Thursday, according to RIA Novosti.

Russia’s offer is aimed at easing Western fears that Tehran is forging ahead with efforts to build an atomic bomb.

'Many questions remain unresolved'
“There was a constructive and serious discussion but many questions remain unresolved,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said, according to Interfax.

The two sides met at a central Moscow hotel for a third round of talks after two sessions last week made no visible progress. Igor Ivanov, the secretary of the Security Council, led the Russian delegation.

Earlier, Russia’s top diplomat reiterated Moscow’s call for Iran to return to a moratorium on enriching uranium as a condition for taking part in a joint enrichment facility on Russian territory.

“I do believe that a compromise that would not allow any violations of the nonproliferation agreement is possible,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Budapest, Hungary, where President Vladimir Putin is on a state visit. “What is necessary is for Iran to come back to the moratorium, to accept the joint venture proposal as a package that would be supported by the members of the governors’ board of the IAEA. I’m not saying that this is already decided.”

Moscow’s offer to host Iran’s enrichment activities has been backed by the United States and the European Union as a way to provide more assurances that Tehran’s atomic program cannot not be diverted to build weapons.

Iran insists its nuclear program is only for generating electricity, but the United States and its allies fear Tehran is seeking to develop atomic bombs.

In Tokyo, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Moscow talks would focus on the location of enrichment and the length of the agreement.

“The Russian plan is on the table,” Mottaki said Wednesday. “We are flexible.”

Talks follow IAEA meeting
The delegation arrived just six days before a crucial board of governors’ meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Monday’s meeting of the Vienna, Austria-based U.N. nuclear watchdog could start a process leading to punishment by the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.

Further action has been deferred until the end of next week’s meeting at the insistence of veto-wielding council members Russia and China, which have close economic and political ties with Iran.

The Iranians expressed optimism that Russia’s proposal could bear fruit.

“Europeans should definitely have a role in this package. Russia would have an essential role, China could have a role, too. The proposal has the potential to advance,” Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said on state-run television.

But Mottaki said he did not envision a long-term agreement with Russia.

“There is a factor of timing — it means for how long this project will be continued,” he said. “Definitely in this item, Iran insists as short as possible. These are the main debates from my understanding, and we are trying to reach some compromise.”

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