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Iran, Russia Prepare for Talks on Nuclear Fuel


Iranian negotiators are due to arrive in Moscow tomorrow for discussions about moving Tehran's nuclear fuel production to Russia. Moscow says its proposal offers the best hope for breaking Tehran's standoff with the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions. But some experts say Iran is only interested in using the talks to prolong the confrontation.

NPR's Gregory Feifer has the story from Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER: Moscow is critical of Iran's resumption of its nuclear fuel production program. Tuesday's move puts Iran on a diplomatic collision course with the West.

Russia agrees with the United States and the European Union Troika, Britain, France and Germany, that Tehran must now stop uranium enrichment. But Moscow disagrees that the United Nations should enact sanctions against Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov laid bare that difference at a news conference in Vienna Wednesday.

SERGEI LAVROV: (Foreign spoken)

FEIFER: He said sanctions have never once in international practice helped solve any problem.

Washington and the EU-3 believe Iran wants to produce atomic weapons. They've already pushed for Tehran to be referred to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program. On Thursday, France directly accused Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons, a charge Iran denied.

But Iran has sent mixed signals about Moscow's proposal for a possible joint venture to enrich uranium, fueling speculation it's stalling for time.

Russian Security Council member Vladimir Nazarov says Moscow won't allow Iran to exploit Monday's talks.

VLADIMIR NAZAROV: (Through interpreter) Iran should understand that it won't be able to play on contradictory statements to sow a split in the international community between members of the UN Security Council.

FEIFER: But Moscow has long insisted Tehran is within its rights to develop nuclear energy. Alexander Konovalov is President of Moscow's Institute for Strategic Assessments.

ALEXANDER KONOVALOV: Iran has full right to produce fuel for the nuclear power stations by its own hands. It is not a violation of any treaty. That is why it is very difficult to put sanctions or to accuse Iran in something in Security Council.

FEIFER: But last month, Russia began softening its opposition to Western pressure on Iran. Rose Gottemoeller of the Moscow Carnegie Center says the Kremlin is worried about having a new nuclear power on its doorstep.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: They're fed up with the Iranians, to tell you the truth, and they've become very, very concerned about Iran's efforts to step over red lines with regard to the nuclear programs.

FIEIFER: But Gottemoeller says Moscow's biggest concern is its own economic interests. Russia is completing a nuclear power station in Iran, a project worth $800 million, and wants to continue supplying Iran with nuclear fuel.

Gottemoeller says Iran is experiencing problems enriching its own uranium and may go for a Russian joint venture. In any case, she says, the talks may offer a chance for longer term and more wide ranging negotiations. But Vladimir Dvorkin, of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, disagrees. He says Iran has no intention of reaching a deal because the oil rich country is not interested in civil nuclear power.

VLADIMIR DVORKIN: (Through Translator) Without any question Tehran has been and is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and will continue to do so however the long term situation plays out.

FEIFER: Dvorkin says Iran is pushing for confrontation at a time of growing Muslim anger with the West. Analysts say Iran is partly motivated by a concern for its own security after U.S. President George Bush called it part of an access of evil and invaded fellow member Iraq.

Alexei Arbatov is former head of the Russian Parliament's Defense Committee. He believes Iran is using Monday's talks only to mislead western countries about its real intentions.

ALEXEI ARBATOV: (Through translator) Iran threw a plastic dog bone to the international community and the international community threw itself on that bone and starting chewing enthusiastically.

FEIFER: Arbatov says even if Moscow and Tehran sign a deal Monday, Iran would still want further security guarantees and economic incentives from the West. As long as Washington refuses to compromise over those matters, Arbatov believes, the two sides may be on a path toward another war in the Middle East. Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.