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. Iran in new talks with South Africa on nuclear deal
TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 07, 2005
Iran is talking to South Africa about assistance with its nuclear programme in a bid to solve a prolonged international dispute over its atomic ambitions, a senior official said Monday.

"We are in the process of negotiating on the modalities of this participation," Javad Vaidi, an official from Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told state television.

He said that South Africa had suggested supplying Iran with uranium oxide concentrate -- known as yellowcake -- that the Islamic republic would then convert into uranium hexafluoride gas at its plant in the central city of Isfahan.

In the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium hexafluoride is then injected into centrifuges to produce the enriched uranium that can be used both as the fuel for nuclear power stations and the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.

Vaidi said South Africa had also proposed taking part in the enrichment process, which is currently suspended.

Iran is refusing to give in to European demands that it renounce enrichment-related activities as the best guarantee that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

Last month, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei identified South Africa as one of a number of third parties attempting to broker a compromise between Iran and the West.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani made an official visit to Pretoria, itself a former undeclared nuclear power under the old apartheid regime.

Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has proposed bringing foreign countries into Tehran's nuclear programme to assure the world the Islamic republic is not deviating from its avowed aim of just supplying Iran with civilian nuclear energy.

However Western countries are distinctly unenthusiastic about the idea and would prefer to see Iran halt enrichment-related activities altogether.

The government remains determined to resume enrichment at some stage in the future and has even allowed the country's nuclear agency to seek foreign or local investors to take part in the enrichment process.

Meanwhile Vaidi confirmed that Russia had also made a proposal to form a consortium to handle uranium ore conversion, the precursor step to enrichment which Iran resumed in August.

Russia and South Africa are among the countries "who accept that conversion activities are continuing and Iran can complete the nuclear fuel cycle," he said.

Iran on Sunday formally asked Britain, France and Germany to reopen stalled talks, with top nuclear official Ali Larijani insisting on the "necessity of negotiations."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the European Union was still studying the request and would reply shortly, although an EU diplomat in Vienna ruled out of court any resumption of talks without a renewed freeze on all enrichment-related activity.

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