Russia sees no need for Iran to continue with uranium enrichment

( RIA Novosti ) - Russia's foreign minister said on Wednesday that Moscow saw no economic necessity for Iran to continue its controversial program to enrich uranium.

Iran's nuclear program has been at the center of an international dispute, with Western countries suspecting Tehran of covering up a weapons program and Iran saying it needs nuclear fuel for energy.

"We are attempting to persuade the Iranians that the freezing of this program would be beneficial for Iran in as much as it would lead to immediate negotiations with the six [international negotiators], including the United States," Sergei Lavrov said.

Russia, which is helping the Iranians build the country's first nuclear power plant in Bushehr, southern Iran, announced the start of nuclear fuel deliveries to the plant on December 17.

If Iran were to agree to freeze its uranium enrichment program, then, said Lavrov, subsequent negotiations with the Iran Six - Russia, the U.S. China, Britain, France and Germany - would help lift, "once and for all, the suspicions that the Iranian nuclear program possesses any other kind of component than a peaceful one."

The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), published on December 3, stated that Tehran had put a stop to weapons production in 2003, although it was continuing to enrich uranium.

The report contradicted a previous U.S. intelligence assessment in 2005, which said that the Islamic Republic was actively pursuing a nuclear bomb.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Tuesday that Iran had turned down demands by the U.S. to halt its uranium enrichment program as a precondition for direct negotiations with Washington.

Lavrov said Russia was fulfilling its obligations to build the $1-billion Bushehr nuclear power plant.

"In the course of the project, certain problems have arisen. But these problems were of a technical and financial nature, not a political one. They have now been settled," he said.

The completion of Bushehr, being built under a 1995 contract, came under threat in February when Russia cited payment delays. Iran denied any funding problems and accused Russia of deliberately stalling on the project in response to pressure from Western powers.

Lavrov also commented that the Bushehr project was being carried out under the complete control of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Our Iranian partners know that in the case of even the smallest deviation from the principle of 100% IAEA control, we will put a halt to our cooperation. But nothing of the sort is happening. The sides are fulfilling their obligations, and the project will be realized," he said.

Lavrov added that the international community was unanimous on its ultimate goal with regard to Iran, which is to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and reach an agreement that would recognize Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

When asked if the U.S. had set itself the aim of achieving regime change in Iran, Lavrov answered that this was an "incidental goal."

"We are being assured [by the U.S.] that they have no hidden goals. However, we would like to be convinced of this in practice. It is important to recognize the positive shift Iran has made in its cooperation with the IAEA."

He also said that Russia would be firmly against any U.S. attempt to use the issue of the Iranian nuclear program to secure regime change in Iran.

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