Russia to host new round of talks on Iranian nuclear program

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MOSCOW (AP) – Russia will host a new round of talks among leading world powers next week in a bid to head off a confrontation between Iran and the U.N. Security Council, Moscow said Friday.

The talks among Russia, the United States, the European Union and China will be held in Moscow on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov said.

China urged other governments to remain calm during the standoff over Iran’s progress toward what the Islamic theocracy says will be peaceful energy generation and other countries suspect is a covert weapons program.

“We hope all parties will adopt a cool-headed approach,” Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said at a news conference Friday. “Dialogue is better than confrontation. We should work together toward this end.”

Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai was scheduled to arrive in Iran on Friday. He then is slated to head to Russia,

The United States and Britain say that if Iran does not comply with the Security Council’s demand to stop uranium enrichment – which can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a bomb – by April 28, they will seek a resolution that would make the demand compulsory.

Russia and China, which have strong economic ties with Iran, have opposed the U.S. push for international sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Iran’s southern port of Bushehr and has sold weapons to Tehran.

Sergei Mironov, the Kremlin-allied speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house, warned that sanctions against Iran would be “premature and won’t yield positive results,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Russia’s chief nuclear official, meanwhile, voiced hope for a diplomatic solution to the standoff despite Tehran’s vow to press ahead with uranium enrichment.

Sergei Kiriyenko said that “there is still a chance for a diplomatic settlement of the Iranian nuclear program.”

Iran says its uranium enrichment is for power-generating purposes, but the United States and others accuse it of covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons bid.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran will not retreat “one iota” on its uranium enrichment.

Separately, Ahmadinejad Friday called Israel a “rotten, dried tree” that will be annihilated by “one storm.”

“Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation,” Ahmadinejad told a conference on Palestinian issues that opened in Tehran on Friday.

Kiriyenko said a Russian proposal to host the Iranian uranium enrichment program in an attempt to ensure fissile material is not diverted for weapons remains on the table. Russia said the offer was contingent on Iran freezing its domestic enrichment effort. The Iranians have rejected the link and talks have brought no visible progress.

Kiriyenko said that Iran’s uranium enrichment capability is still on an experimental scale and is far from what is needed to build nuclear weapons.

“So far, Iran has enriched uranium in a laboratory using 164 centrifuges. This is a far cry from a bomb,” Kiriyenko said, according to ITAR-Tass.

In a speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr reiterated Tehran’s position that it was not seeking nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear weapons are ineffective, and Iran is not going to make them,” Mohammadi said, according to ITAR-Tass.

Mohammadi said that Tehran wants to strike an oil and gas alliance with Russia and also is mulling the construction of natural gas pipelines to China and India via Pakistan, ITAR-Tass said.

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