Iran still wants talks with world powers over fuel supplies to a Tehran nuclear reactor _ despite the country's apparent rejection of a U.N. plan to curb Iran's enriched uranium stockpile.
The Iranian top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said late Sunday that Tehran "welcomes" talks on the nuclear issue with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany. Jalili spoke during a meeting with visiting Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, according to Iran's state television.
Russia is part of the U.N. effort to ensure Iran doesn't use its nuclear program for weapons-making purposes, as the West fears. Moscow has warned it could back new sanctions against Iran if it fails to take a constructive stance in the nuclear talks.
A U.N.-brokered plan in October required Tehran to send 1.2 tons (1,100 kilograms) _ around 70 percent of its stockpile _ of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of the year for further enrichment, a move that would ease international concerns the material could be processed for a bomb.
According to the U.N. plan, after further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material.
Iran, which says its nuclear work is peaceful, has not yet given a final response to the U.N. proposal, and has come up instead with its own request to buy nuclear fuel from abroad. Iranian officials and lawmakers have hardened their stance toward the U.N. plan in recent comments, adding to the pressure on the government to altogether reject the draft.
In addition, Teheran has indicated it may agree to send only "part" of its stockpile in several shipments abroad and has threatened to _ should the talks with world powers fail to help Iran obtain the fuel from abroad _ enrich uranium to the higher level needed to power the research reactor domestically.
The back-and-forth has left the nuclear talks in limbo.
On his visit to Tehran, Ryabkov expressed hope the talks would be "concluded soon."
"Tehran still welcomes the talks based on its package of proposals," Jalili said, referring to the Iranian counteroffer.
The United States and its allies are unlikely to accept anything substantially less than the original U.N. plan.
But an American envoy at the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna suggested the West is prepared to wait for a definitive Iranian response.
"We want to give some space to Iran to work through this. It's a tough issue for them quite obviously," said Glynn Davies, the chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Associated Press Writer George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects quote from US envoy to IAEA.)