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Iran, Russia Start Talks on Joint Uranium Enrichment Venture

Iran and Russia began talks Saturday on Moscow's proposal that the two nations enrich uranium in Russian territory, days after Tehran said it needed to clarify "ambiguities" in the offer, state-run television reported Saturday.

Meanwhile, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, arrived in Tehran on Saturday to remove seals from nuclear research facilities.

The Russian proposal, backed by the Europeans and the United States, is aimed at getting Iran to move uranium enrichment completely out of its territory to ensure that its nuclear program cannot produce weapons. Enrichment can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material needed for a warhead.

A top Russian delegation held talks with Iranian officials about the Russian proposal, the television quoted the spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Hossein Entezami, as saying. The council, Iran's highest security decision-making body, handles Iran's nuclear negotiations with the international community.

"The two sides are expected to discuss the Russian proposal about joint uranium enrichment (in Russia) and also uranium enrichment in Iran," Entezami was quoted as saying.

Iran, which is under intense pressure to accept the deal, has said it needs Moscow to clarify "ambiguities" in its proposal, insisting that it must not deny Iran the ability to enrich uranium domestically.

Tehran says its nuclear program is for electricity generation, despite U.S. and European Union concerns that it is moving to produce nuclear bombs.

EU foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana told Iran on Saturday that it may doom further negotiations with the EU about economic aid and other issues if it resumes uranium enrichment.

The Europeans are hoping the compromise would foster a breakthrough in deadlocked negotiations aimed at ensuring Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons. Talks between Iran and Britain, France and Germany, which resumed last month, have made little progress, but are to continue later this month.

Iran informed the IAEA Tuesday that it has decided to resume research into nuclear fuel production on Jan. 9, a step that has only increased concerns in the West that Iran is moving toward production of nuclear weapons.

Tehran has not specified the type of research.

"IAEA inspectors have arrived in Tehran to remove the seals from nuclear research facilities," the television quoted Entezami as saying.

Entezami did not elaborate but said the inspectors will also hold talks with top Iranian nuclear officials.

In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Saturday that Iran had provided some details on its planned work with enrichment equipment but suggested the agency was still not satisfied.

"We are seeking more information," she said, but did not elaborate.

The nuclear program is a source of national pride in Iran, and any government that abandons enrichment likely would lose public support.

Meanwhile, Washington is pushing for Tehran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council, where it could face economic sanctions over the dispute.

Russia and China, which have vetoes on the council, oppose referral and the West has stopped short of forcing the matter.