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Putin: Iran Talks 'Not Going Easily'

Talks with Iran on a Russian proposal aimed at resolving an international crisis over Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program are not going "easily," President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

"The talks are not going easily but we are counting on reaching a positive result," Putin told journalists on a visit to Azerbaijan.

The Russian leader said that the Kremlin's offer to enrich uranium for Tehran to avert suspicions that the Iranians could divert the nuclear fuel for atomic weapons should be "perfectly acceptable" to Iran and could be used as "a means to solve the problem."

"We are not losing optimism," Putin said. "We are waiting for a final response from the Iranian negotiators and we hope for a positive result."

But a senior Russian lawmaker expressed frustration.

"Unfortunately, Iran so far has not shown sufficient good will," Konstantin Kosachev, head of the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said Tuesday.

The two countries' negotiators on Tuesday completed two days of inconclusive talks in Moscow on the Russian initiative. Russia's atomic agency chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, is to visit Iran on Thursday for further talks.

Russian newspapers on Wednesday cited Iranian officials as saying that Iran was not ready to accept Russia's plan because Tehran insisted on the right to conduct its own enrichment activities.

"There are no reasons at this stage to resume dialogue," the Vedomosti daily quoted an official close to the Iranian delegation as saying.

Tehran's top negotiator, Ali Hosseinitash, labeled the Moscow meeting "positive and constructive," but some Russians voiced concern that Iran was using the proposed Kremlin compromise to stall for time and avert international sanctions.

The Russian proposal, backed by the United States and the European Union, is seen as the final opportunity to ease international concerns over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons drive. Tehran has rejected calls to resume a freeze on domestic uranium enrichment.

The U.N nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, decided this month to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions on Iran. The IAEA is holding a March 6 meeting to discuss the matter.

Iran responded to the IAEA decision by confirming it had resumed small-scale uranium enrichment and by suspending some of its cooperation with the nuclear watchdog, including allowing surprise inspections of nuclear facilities.

Russia, which has strong ties to Iran, is building the country's first nuclear power station and is anxious to avoid sanctions and eager to win prestige by helping find a solution.

China, which like Russia has resisted strong measures against Iran, on Tuesday joined calls for Tehran to freeze enrichment. Both countries have the power to block sanctions against Tehran as veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb. Iran says it is pursuing peaceful nuclear energy but Western nations fear it is seeking an atomic weapon.