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Iran Welcomes Russia Nuke Offer

Tehran's nuclear negotiator on Wednesday welcomed Moscow's offer to have Iran's uranium enriched in Russia, but said the proposal needs more work and threatened to renew full-scale uranium enrichment if his country is referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran's High Council of National Security Secretary Ali Larijani suggested it would take time to work out details of Russia's proposal, a Western-backed compromise that could provide more oversight and ease fears that Tehran is using its pursuit of atomic power as a front for a nuclear weapons program.

"Our view of this offer is positive, and we tried to bring the positions of the sides closer," Larijani said a day after talks with Russian Security Council chief Igor Ivanov. "This plan can be perfected in the future, during further talks that will be held in February."

Some critics say that Tehran is using the proposal, under which Iranian uranium would be enriched in Russia and returned to Iran for use in the country's reactors, to stall for time as diplomatic pressure over its nuclear activities mounts.

"There are lots of details surrounding this offer that must be must be decided, the location of the plant, the form of participation, technical cooperation," Larijani told a news conference, speaking through a translator. He said the proposal would have to be developed "in conjunction with other measures that require more talks."

Russian officials have said further talks on the proposal would be held in Russia around Feb. 16, after a Feb. 2 emergency board meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which could send the Iran standoff to the U.N. Security Council.

With that meeting looming, Larijani said Iran would welcome talks with European countries, though an Iranian proposal to renew talks with the European Union was recently rejected, and warned his country would abandon its nuclear obligations if the issue is brought before the council.

"If they use political pressure, if our dossier is handed over or opened in an unofficial way by the Security Council, then according to a parliament decision we are obligated to revoke the fulfillment of all moratoriums," he said. "In this situation, our actions will not be limited to research. Then we will begin industrial enrichment."

He said Tehran would also be obliged to forsake a 2003 agreement with the IAEA that gave the agency more power to inspect Iranian nuclear sites, and warned of unspecified additional actions that he said would be revealed "in due time."

Iran removed IAEA seals from equipment Jan. 10, ending a 15-month moratorium, and announced it would restart research on nuclear fuel including what it described as small-scale enrichment. The move led Germany, Britain and France to call for the Feb. 2 emergency board session.

Meanwhile, adding to the tension between Iran and the U.S. and Britain, Iran's president on Wednesday blamed both countries for two bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, which borders Iraq. At least nine people were killed in Tuesday's two blasts and forty-six were wounded, police spokesman Mohammed Ali Pour said Wednesday.

"Traces of the occupiers of Iraq is evident in the Ahvaz events. They should take responsibility in this regard," state television quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying.

European countries believe they will have enough votes at the Feb. 2 meeting to haul Iran before the Security Council, a move also favored by the United States, but they want broad support, including from Russia, China and key developing nations.

Russia, which is building a reactor for Iran's first nuclear power plant, is not eager to see the issue come before the Security Council, where it is a veto-wielding permanent member.

Following their talks Tuesday, Larijani and Ivanov said in a joint statement that Tehran's nuclear standoff must be resolved through the IAEA. "Both sides expressed their desire to solve the issue in a diplomatic way within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Russia's Security Council said.

After mixed signals from Iran, the Russian enrichment proposal has returned to the center of intensifying diplomacy after Iranian officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was under consideration. The plan presents Putin with an opportunity to please the West without sacrificing ties with Iran.

Taking the idea a step further, Putin called Wednesday for the creation of an international system of facilities that would provide enrichment and other nuclear-cycle services to nations that want nuclear power. In televised comments, he said Russia could establish the prototype facility on its territory.

Following reports that Tehran wants China involved in the Russian enrichment process, the Iranian Embassy announced that Iran's top nuclear negotiator will meet with Chinese officials in Beijing. Chief negotiator Ali Larijani is expected to arrive in Beijing early Thursday, a statement from the Embassy said, without giving additional details.