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. Iran moots new nuclear plan amid sanctions threats
TEHRAN, Oct 4 (AFP) Oct 04, 2006
Iran made a last-ditch proposal Tuesday to break the deadlock over its nuclear programme as world powers warned it still risked being taken to the UN Security Council within a week for possible sanctions.

A top Iranian official said the crisis could be resolved if France created a consortium to produce enriched uranium on Iranian soil, a proposal that stops short of Western demands Tehran suspends the sensitive nuclear activity.

"The best solution to dispel the worries about Iran's nuclear activities is not to demand a suspension" of enrichment, the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, Mohammad Saeedi, told AFP.

"We have an idea that technically and legally is the best solution.

"It is that France creates a consortium with Eurodif and Areva to carry out enrichment in Iran and thus they can closely monitor our nuclear programme," he added, referring to France's enrichment specialist and its parent company.

But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Cairo as part of a Middle East tour, dismissed the move as an "old idea."

"The idea of a consortium is actually an old idea. It has been around for a while and the Iranians have floated it before. There is a consortium idea that the United States supports, which is the consortium (...) that Russia has proposed, which would be a joint venture but with no enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil," she said.

"I fear that this may instead, therefore, be a stalling technique because we don't want to get to the basic issue which is that Iran has to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing in order to begin negotiations," Rice said.

The United States has vowed to haul Iran up before the Security Council if it fails to suspend uranium enrichment, a process the West fears could be diverted away from energy uses to make nuclear weapons.

British and US officials confirmed time was running out on a final deadline for Iran to agree to suspend enrichment, an eventuality deemed highly unlikely given repeated vows by Iran it has no intention of halting the process.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has been leading the talks with the Iranians, described Saeedi's proposal as "interesting" and in need of further examination.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy said the proposal could only be taken into consideration "after Iran suspends its uranium activities".

But comments from Washington and London suggested only an unambiguous vow of readiness to suspend enrichment from Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani would be enough to prevent the issue going towards the United Nations.

"If (Iran's answer) is maybe, it's a no," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the State Department point man on Iran, told The Washington Times.

"If it's 'We'd like to negotiate this further,' it has been negotiated for four months," Burns said.

"At some point, you have to draw the line. So I think you'll have the answer by the end of the week," he added.

A high-ranking British official, who declined to be named, said preparations were now underway to propose a draft resolution at the UN Security Council under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which allows for economic sanctions.

"Unless there is a sudden unexpected change of heart by the Iranians, we can expect this to move to New York in the coming week or so," he said.

Iran's use of enrichment, a process used to create the fuel for a nuclear power station but that can also provide the explosive core of a nuclear bomb, lies at the centre of the standoff.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful energy needs, vehemently rejecting US allegations it is seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Solana and Larijani spoke on the telephone Monday and resolved to make further contact in the next days. The conversation was the first contact between the two men since they held talks in Berlin last week.

The intense activity on both sides came as the head of Russia's security council, Igor Ivanov, held talks with Larijani in Tehran and backed a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Russia has supported calls for Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment, but has been reluctant to endorse sanctions and wants to continue work on building a nuclear power station at Bushehr, in southern Iran.

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