Russia says IAEA still could resolve Iran nuclear dispute
TEHRAN, Iran – Russia’s top nuclear official expressed confidence Saturday that the U.N. atomic watchdog agency still could resolve the international standoff over Iran’s program, Russian news agencies reported.Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the state atomic energy agency, said resolving the persistent questions about the intent of Iran’s nuclear program “within the framework of the IAEA is absolutely realistic,” Russian news agencies reported.A resolution involving the International Atomic Energy Agency could avert U.N. Security Council sanctions against the Islamic republic.Still, Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, insisted his country could endure international sanctions for the sake of their nuclear program.”The Iranian people have chosen their own way and they can withstand problems and secure their own interests,” he was quoted by Iranian state television as saying after talks with China’s deputy foreign minister, Lu Guozheng, over the nuclear issue.The U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions, will take up the issue of Iran’s nuclear program after the IAEA holds a crucial meeting on the issue on March 6.Moscow is struggling to persuade Tehran to return to a moratorium on uranium enrichment and agree to shift its enrichment program to Russian territory to ease world concerns it could divert enriched uranium to a weapons program.Such steps would ease pressure on the Security Council – whose veto-wielding members are the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – to punish Tehran and could foster further diplomacy.Kiriyenko, who met Saturday with Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh, stressed that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program but suggested Tehran must act to assure the world it is not seeking nuclear weapons.”The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable and the international community must be certain that it does not occur under any circumstances,” ITAR-Tass quoted Kiriyenko as saying. “It is no doubt possible to satisfy these two demands.”Kiriyenko made the comments at a news conference with Iranian Economy Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari. Iranian media did not carry his comments.Danesh-Jafari said Tehran is ready for sanctions but doubted they will be imposed.”Iran’s economic capacity is large enough not to fall into problems in a critical situation,” he said, according to state television.”Our country has faced such problems in the past, and I don’t think the international community will decide to place such pressure on Iran, as everything we are doing is based on international agreements and everything we are doing is lawful,” ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.Iran has insisted on its right to maintain domestic enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for an atomic bomb.There was no visible progress on the Russian proposal Saturday. Speaking on Iranian state television, Aghazadeh said only that the issue was discussed. Russian officials said the offer remained on the negotiating table.A commentary by Iranian television said that “if Russia and China adopt a realistic and independent attitudes, then current negotiations could lead to a positive conclusion.” It did not elaborate.On Sunday, Kiriyenko will visit the nuclear power plant Russia is building for Iran in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr. A Russian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said expert-level talks on the uranium enrichment proposal were being held between the two nations Saturday and would continue Sunday.Talks in Moscow earlier in the week brought no Iranian agreement to the proposal. The lack of visible progress has raised concerns that Tehran was using the offer to stall for time.Russia strongly opposes sanctions against Iran and is eager to avoid an escalation of the dispute pitting Western nations against a country where it has substantial economic and geopolitical interests.—Associated Press reporter Steve Gutterman in Moscow contributed to this report.