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. Iran 'open to offers' on nuclear work
TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 11, 2005
Iran wants to conduct sensitive nuclear work on its territory but it is open to its uranium being enriched abroad, a day after Washington denied backing a proposal to resolve the nuclear row by letting enrichment be done in Russia.

"What is important for Iran is to enrich (uranium) on its soil," nuclear chief Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by local news agencies on Friday.

He added that he had not received any formal proposal for enrichment abroad but said "we will discuss it" if one is offered.

Under a proposal reportedly being floated, Iran would be allowed to carry out an initial step in making nuclear fuel -- converting uranium ore into the uranium hexafluoride gas that is the feedstock for making enriched uranium.

But enrichment itself could be carried out in Russia under an offer said to be under consideration by the European Union and the United States.

Moscow was awaiting a swift response from Tehran on the proposal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.

"We are expecting to have results in the near future," Lavrov said at a news conference when asked about the plan.

Russia has staunchly backed Iran's right to a civilian nuclear energy programme. The United States has alleged that the effort is a cover to develop weapons, something Tehran roundly denies.

Russia has a lucrative contract to build Iran's first nuclear power reactor and has a veto on the Security Council.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied on Thursday that the United States and Europe had agreed on any proposal.

She dismissed a report in the New York Times of a joint effort to head off a confrontation over the suspicions of a nuclear weapons programme.

"There is no US-European proposal to the Iranians. I want to say that categorically," Rice told reporters. "There isn't and there won't be. We are not parties to these negotiations and we don't intend to become parties to the negotiations."

The Times said Washington had agreed with Britain, France and Germany, which are negotiating with Iran on behalf of the European Union, to make a last-ditch offer that would allow Tehran to maintain very small-scale nuclear activities.

The proposal would move all uranium-enrichment activities to Russia, according to the daily, which quoted US and European officials.

A diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Thursday the proposal would be in a letter that Britain, France and Germany were expected to send to Larijani.

The diplomat said the EU-3 "have to present their proposal in detail. We (other countries) have to see something in fine print."

Iran triggered a crisis in August when it effectively broke off negotiations with the EU-3 on a package of incentives for restraining its nuclear plans and resumed conversion activities it had suspended last November.

Meanwhile, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei was said to be holding off on plans to visit Tehran for further talks until greater international consensus on the plan was reached.

The IAEA board is to meet on November 24 and could theoretically refer Iran to the UN Security Council for sanctions.

The nuclear watchdog in September found Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, paving the way for the matter to be referred to the council.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said Friday that initial results from an inspection of the Parchin military site -- an explosives center at which Washington charges Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons -- show no sign of nuclear activity.

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