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Russia's Proposal On Iran Nukes Lauded

U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Thursday he was hopeful that a Russian proposal could help break the standoff over Iran's nuclear research and enrichment plans.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting, ElBaradei said he was happy that earlier in the day Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Russia's proposal to move Iran's enrichment program to Russian territory was "a positive one."

But State Department officials say they don't see much reason to get excited, pointing out that Iran has misled Russia before and was likely to do so again, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts.

Roberts reports that the Bush administration is going to keep up the pressure to get a referral from the Atomic Energy Agency to get Iran hauled before the U.N. Security Council – but the administration is split over whether the Security Council can put enough pressure on Iran that it would back down.

ElBaradei said he also was encouraged that all parties still were discussing a diplomatic solution. His comments came amid quickening diplomatic negotiations ahead of a crucial Feb. 2 meeting of his International Atomic Energy Agency, which could refer the issue to the Security Council.

Britain, France and Germany have been leading efforts to get Iran to abandon uranium conversion and enrichment activities, which it refuses to do. The three countries declared that negotiations had reached a dead end two days after Iran broke U.N. seals at a uranium enrichment plant Jan. 10 and said it was resuming nuclear research after a two-year freeze.

"We need Iran to use maximum transparency because there are a lot of question marks about its program," ElBaradei said. "They need to be assured that they can use nuclear power for electricity, but the international community needs to be assured that the Iran program is exclusively for peaceful purposes."

Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said at the forum Thursday that Iran should not be allowed develop nuclear weapons, but he did not say if the country should face economic sanctions.

"Their security is not threatened," Musharraf said of Iran during a discussion on Islam. He said his own country had nuclear weapons because it maintained a balance of power with neighboring India.

"When a nuclear threat was posed to us we had to set the balance right again," he said. "Every country has a right to defend its security if its security is threatened."

As for Iran developing nuclear weapons, he said that if the country felt its security was threatened, "they would have the right to go nuclear."

The European Union on Thursday urged Iran to accept the Russian offer as a way to defuse the standoff with the international community.

"The Russians have made a very reasonable suggestion," Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said at a joint press conference with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Because of concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions, ElBaradei said Thursday, "Iran probably needs to go through a rehabilitation period by which it will accept that it will not engage in enrichment on Iran territory while at the same time make sure that they get what they need for their own peaceful purpose."

"And that's why the Russian proposal is a very attractive proposal," he said.

At the moment, many people are trying to use "the maximum of diplomacy," he said.

The question being debated right now is whether to go to the Security Council at the beginning or end of February or this month, he said.

But even the Europeans and Americans, who want Iran referred to the council now, want the Security Council "to do a new phase of diplomacy," he said.

"Everybody's still talking about diplomacy and I'm very hopeful that as long as we talk about diplomacy, as long as we're not talking about enforcement measures, sanctions, et cetera, we are on the right track. But we need to accelerate the process," ElBaradei said.

Iran alleged Thursday it had information that the United States, Britain and Israel had a role in two deadly military plane crashes in the last two months.

It was the latest accusation by Tehran against the West in their sharpening confrontation. A day earlier, Iran blamed the United States and Britain for two bombings this week that killed at least nine people in southwestern Iran.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said the crashes of a C-130 and a Falcon plane were "done by their design, or maybe electronic interference."

Pourmohammadi did not elaborate and did not offer any evidence.