By Maria Novak
LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – Iran has "unilaterally" rejected a Russian proposal to resolve its standoff with the West over fears it may be trying to develop nuclear weapons, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Monday.
Iran has said its nuclear program will enrich uranium only to a level suitable for civilian atomic-power reactors but the United States and European Union fear Tehran will use the same technology to make bomb-grade material.
To minimize that possibility, Moscow proposes taking in Iranian uranium for enrichment and then returning it to Iran. But Tehran has said it will accept only ideas to resolve the dispute that allow it to conduct a full nuclear fuel at home.
"The Russians have made a proposal to Iran for the possibility of a joint venture for enriching nuclear material for Iran. But the Iranians, in a way, have unilaterally refused this," Douste-Blazy told reporters during an international conference in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.
"The Europeans wish to give time to negotiations so as to show the Iranians that what we precisely want is to achieve something through negotiations," he said. "We are not trying to humiliate them. But so far Iran has said ‘no’ to everything."
The Islamic republic rejects suspicions that it is bent on making atomic bombs. It says its nuclear project aims solely to generate electricity. But Iran hid its nuclear work from U.N. inspectors for 18 years until 2003, raising alarm in the West.
Talks between Iran and the EU trio of Britain, Germany and France spearheading diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis are to resume within weeks, diplomats say, but differences over agenda appear to be holding things up.
The EU3-Iran dialogue broke down in August when Iran removed U.N. seals at its Isfahan nuclear facility and began processing uranium, the stage prior to uranium enrichment.
"We want to give every chance for negotiations. We have done all our utmost to resume negotiations and bring them (Iran) back within the international community," Douste-Blazy said.
Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told Reuters on Sunday that Tehran’s patience regarding Western opposition to its nuclear program was wearing thin and it would give the EU only a few months to settle the matter through talks.
Asked how long Iran’s patience and its commitment to a two-year-old voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment activities would last, he said: "A few months. We have a limited time framework for talks."
The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), decided at a board meeting last month to put off a vote on referring Iran for possible U.N. sanctions in favor of giving time for Russian diplomacy to bear fruit.
But Western leaders on the board also warned their patience was not unlimited, citing a September board resolution finding Iran in non-compliance with safeguards provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Tehran is a signatory.