MOSCOW – Iran and Russia reportedly resumed talks Thursday in a Kremlin effort to defuse tensions over Tehran's suspect nuclear program, while the top Iranian negotiator accused the United States of trying to sabotage the deal.
Ali Larijani said at a news conference that Washington's push to have Iran reported to the U.N. Security Council would kill Moscow's proposal to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian territory as a way to increase international monitoring.
"America is lying, trying to destroy the Russian proposal," Larijani said. "The Americans' insistence on handing over the Iranian nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council means the destruction of the Russian proposal."
The State Department said Wednesday that Iran's insistence on conducting its own uranium enrichment was a move in the wrong direction and a reason to hand the Iranian nuclear dossier to the Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions.
U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte also told lawmakers in Washington that the risk of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and using them to arm its existing long-range missiles was "a reason for immediate concern."
Iran insists it is pursuing uranium enrichment only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors used to generate electricity. But a growing number of nations share U.S. fears the Tehran regime's real goal is to develop nuclear weapons.
Larijani said his team had put forward a "package proposal" in Wednesday's negotiations in Moscow, denying that the discussions had ended in failure.
"We need to give diplomats time to look at it," he said.
The talks resumed Thursday, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, quoting an unidentified official close to the negotiations.
The Iranian delegation was to expected to fly out of Moscow later Thursday ahead of talks in Vienna, Austria, on Friday with three European nations.
France's foreign ministry said Iran's government had requested the meeting with the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France, which represented the European Union in previous talks.
Spokesman Denis Simoneau emphasized the Europeans would not compromise on their demand that Iran give up all uranium enrichment on its home soil.
The meeting comes at a crucial time — just three days before another meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board. What the board recommends to the Security Council likely will help determine the immediate course of action on Iran by the council, which has the power to impose sanctions.
In Berlin, the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had discussed the Iran situation with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday, and both sides agreed on the need for a united front in trying to find a solution for Iran's nuclear program.
Wen also stressed there is still time to negotiate a settlement within the structure of the IAEA, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported in Beijing.
It remains unclear whether Russia and China, which have close economic and political ties with Iran, would back sanctions against Iran. Both countries are among the five council members with the power to veto any action by the council.
Moscow has offered to have Iran's uranium enrichment program transferred to Russia, a move backed by the United States and the EU as a way to provide more safeguards that Tehran's atomic program could not be used to build weapons.
Russia has said Iran must first halt domestic uranium enrichment, which produces reactor fuel but also can make fissile material for warheads.
But Larijani reaffirmed the Iranians' refusal to do give up all enrichment activities. The point was reinforced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said during a visit to Malaysia that "it is very clear that we are not open to negotiating on our inalienable rights."
"We believe that it is the right of all member nations to enjoy nuclear fuel and peaceful nuclear technology. We will not accept a scientific apartheid," Ahmadinejad told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Britain, France, and Germany negotiated with Iran on behalf of the 25-member EU last year in an attempt to persuade Tehran to stop enrichment, but Iran rejected a proposal to shelve that work in return for economic help.
Britain's U.N. ambassador said he expected the IAEA to report Iran to the council.
"My expectation is that the board will reaffirm its view that Iran ought to comply with the wishes of the board," Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said. "It would surprise me if as a result of that meeting the issue was not reported to the Security Council."
Asked about IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's reported statement that the world may have to get used to the idea of Iran having limited enrichment capabilities, Larijani said it reflected a "realistic approach."
"I hope that people and ears can be found to listen to this proposal. I think that Mr. ElBaradei's idea can be turned into a new formula, it can be studied," he said.