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Iran wants to review plan for a time-out to sanctions, enrichment

Monday, January 29, 2007

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran said Sunday it needs time to review a plan proposed by the head of the U.N nuclear watchdog agency that calls for holding off on imposing U.N. Security Council sanctions if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, proposed the simultaneous time-out plan during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in an effort to end the standoff between the West and Iran over the Islamic Republic's suspect nuclear program.

"Time should be allocated to see if the plan has the capacity to solve the [nuclear] case," Larijani said at a joint news conference with Russia's national security adviser, Igor Ivanov. He did not elaborate.

The Security Council last month voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions on Iran after it ignored demands to halt enrichment. Iran faces the prospect of additional sanctions unless it stops enrichment within a 60-day period that ends next month.

'Critical situation'

While Iran says its nuclear program has the sole purpose of using atomic power to generate electricity, the United States and its allies believe Tehran is secretly developing atomic weapons in violation of treaty commitments.

Ivanov expressed optimism the dispute can be resolved if both sides agree to ElBaradei's proposal.

"The situation of Iran's nuclear case is critical. Reducing its intensity is our aim," Ivanov said. "We are currently discussing to remove obstacles from the way of negotiations. All sides should show flexibility and avoid statements that worsen the situation."

Iranian state-run radio said earlier Sunday that Tehran wants Moscow to help mediate the standoff, saying Tehran's leaders are looking to Russia for "new proposals, such as enrichment of uranium on Russian soil."

Move work to Russia

The Kremlin proposed last year that Iran move its uranium enrichment work to Russian territory, where it could be better monitored to alleviate international suspicions. Enrichment can produce material usable both as fuel for electricity-generating nuclear reactors and for atomic bombs.

Iranian leaders had said they were interested in the idea, but nothing ever came of it as oil-rich Iran insisted its nuclear project is intended only to produce reactor fuel.

State radio also said Russia pledged to complete Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station on schedule this year. Russia last year agreed to ship fuel to Bushehr by this March and start up the facility in September, with electricity generation to start by November.

As a U.N. Security Council permanent member, Russia last month forced the body to water down proposed punitive measures that would have imposed curbs on the Bushehr project. But the Kremlin then supported limited sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Ivanov's visit came as Iranian officials issued contradictory statements about progress on expanding enrichment facilities at the Natanz nuclear facility by installing 3,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said Sunday that Iran was continuing its nuclear activity according to schedule.

"If we begin to install centrifuges we will publicly announce it," Saeedi said. Earlier, Hossein Simorgh, spokesman for the Iranian nuclear agency's public relations department, also said new centrifuges had not been installed at Natanz, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Those remarks appeared to contradict lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who said Saturday that Iran was currently installing the 3,000 centrifuges.

The IAEA had no comment on the Iranian statements, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Sunday. ElBaradei said recently he believed Iran planned to begin work in February on an underground facility to hold uranium enrichment equipment.

A senior U.S. State Department official warned Iran on Friday against accelerating its atomic program.

"If Iran takes this step, it is going to confront universal international opposition," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. "If they think they can get away with 3,000 centrifuges without another Security Council resolution and additional international pressure, then they are very badly mistaken."

For now, the only known assembled centrifuge operations in Iran consist of two linked chains of 164 machines each and two smaller setups.


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