Tehran: Iran's agreement to discuss Moscow's plan to enrich uranium in Russia does not mean that Tehran has abandoned its drive to enrich uranium on its own soil, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying yesterday.
The remarks by Javad Vaeedi, deputy of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, appeared to dash faint hopes that Russia's proposal could resolve the Islamic state's nuclear standoff with the West.
The proposal, which is backed by Washington and the European Union, involves the creation of a joint Iranian-Russian company to enrich uranium in Russia.
The plan has been put forward by Moscow to try to allay international concerns that Iran could manufacture highly enriched uranium on its own soil to build atomic weapons.
Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only to a low grade, suitable for use in atomic power reactors. But Vaeedi said Iran had only agreed to study Moscow's joint-venture proposal on the assumption that it did not affect Iran's plans to develop a full nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment, at home.
"Securing Iran's rights, based on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium on Iran's soil within the framework of International Atomic Energy Agency regulations would be the first assumption for assessing Russia's proposal," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying.
Calling the Russian plan an "idea" he said: "Iran takes seriously new proposals and ideas aimed at finding a peaceful solution to its nuclear problem and can review them."
Earlier yesterday, Russia's Foreign Ministry confirmed that Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov had talked to his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani on Thursday to discuss the Russian proposal, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
A spokesman declined to confirm the report when asked. Tass quoted him as saying "discussion of these themes will continue".
Russia's nuclear chief is set to travel to Iran in February to discuss the completion of a Russian-built nuclear plant and Moscow's proposals to enrich Iran's uranium on Russian territory, officials said yesterday.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, is expected to focus on a schedule for the completion of the Bushehr nuclear plant Russia is building in southern Iran, his spokesman Sergei Novikov said.
Striking N-facilities 'difficult not impossible'
A pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be "difficult but not impossible", the head of Israeli military intelligence said in an interview published yesterday.
"It is not the time nor place to talk about military action as the diplomatic route is still the order of the day," General Aharon Zeevi told the Yediot Aharonot daily. "However if such action were to be decided upon in due course, it would be difficult but not impossible."
In an interview on Israeli radio on Thursday, the army's chief of staff General Dan Halutz ruled out the the prospect of a pre-emptive strike in the near future.
"I don't think that a military intervention against Iran's nuclear installations should be necessary in the short term," Halutz said.
"There is no threat to the existence of the state of Israel as long as Iran does not possess nuclear arms."