Iran Rules Out Russian Uranium Enrichment Plan

Iran on Sunday ruled out a proposal to conduct uranium enrichment on Russian territory, drawing a harsh rebuke from a lawmaker in Moscow who said the move destroyed the only chance for a compromise in the standoff over Tehran's suspect nuclear program.

The announcement came as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — were to meet this week to discuss a draft statement aimed at increasing the pressure on Iran to resolve questions about its nuclear activities amid heightened fears they are aimed at developing atomic weapons.

Moscow has sought to persuade Iran to move its enrichment program to Russian territory, which would allow closer international monitoring. Iran said previously that basic agreement had been reached on the plan but details were never worked out.

"The Russian proposal is not on our agenda anymore," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. "Circumstances have changed. We have to wait and see how things go with the five veto-holding countries (on the council)."

Asefi's comments to reporters effectively mean the Russian proposal is dead the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency referred Iran to the council, which could impose political and economic sanctions.

The five Security Council powers have been considering how to deal with the standoff and gain more compliance with Tehran, including demands that it abandon uranium enrichment.

In Moscow, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of international affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, said Iran's decision meant the end of chances for a compromise on the issue, according to Russian news reports.

Kosachev also warned Tehran that its refusal to continue talks on the Russian offer could "radicalize" the Security Council's debate, the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, meanwhile, said Tehran had no intention to use oil as a weapon in its confrontation with the West over its nuclear program, contradicting a statement a day earlier by Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to continue to provide Asia with the oil it needs as a reliable and effective source of energy and will not use oil as a foreign policy instrument," Mottaki said at a conference on energy and security issues in Tehran.

Iran is the No. 2 producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia. It also has partial control of the narrow Straits of Hormuz, a key route for most of the crude oil shipped from the Persian Gulf nations to world markets.

The United States and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it only aims to produce energy.

Iran, which only has an experimental nuclear research program, repeatedly has warned it will begin large-scale uranium enrichment if the IAEA formally referred it the Security Council. Last week, it offered what it called a "final proposal" to agree to suspend large-scale enrichment temporarily in return for IAEA recognition of its right to continue research-scale enrichment.

Asefi suggested Tehran would wait for the outcome of the Security Council meetings to make a decision on whether to begin large-scale enrichment, which scientists say would take months to do.

"Regarding industrial scale uranium enrichment, we are going to wait for two, three days," he said.

Uranium enriched to a low level produces fuel that can be used in a nuclear reactor, while higher enrichment produces the material needed for a warhead.

Iran has insisted it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel. It restarted research-scale uranium enrichment last month, two years after voluntarily freezing the program during talks with Germany, Britain and France.

Mottaki, the foreign minister, reiterated a veiled warning that Iran may consider withdrawing from the NPT if its right to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel is not respected.

"If we reach a point that the existing rules don't meet the right of the Iranian nation, the Islamic Republic of Iran may reconsider policies," he said.

A report last week by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran was testing centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched uranium, and had plans to begin installation of the first 3,000 centrifuges late this year. Iran will need to install about 60,000 centrifuges for a large-scale enrichment of uranium.