Joint nuclear sites useful idea for Iran - Solana

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PARIS, Nov 22 (Reuters) International nuclear fuel production sites should be examined to help defuse a standoff between Iran and the UN Security Council, the European Union's foreign policy chief said today.

The Council has demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment -- a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power stations or, potentially, atom bombs.

Iran has ignored the demand, saying it has a right to the technology. It denies Western charges that it is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

''Only a multilateral solution can make it possible to end this crisis,'' Javier Solana, mandated by major powers to hold talks with Iran on its nuclear programme and report back this month, told a conference on European policy.

''The idea of international enrichment centres under multilateral supervision has been discussed for some time. Let us therefore try to deepen it.'' Solana's report on Iran's readiness to suspend sensitive nuclear work and enter talks on its atomic programme will help the permanent Security Council members and Germany decide whether to press ahead with a further round of sanctions.

Iranian media said on Wednesday Solana would meet Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in London on Nov 30. Solana said he would ''probably'' meet Jalili on that date.

UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei has put forward the idea of such an international mechanism that could provide nuclear fuel to countries and reduce the risk that states use their own enrichment sites to make weapons.

ElBaradei told a meeting of his International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) governing board today that the agency was examining proposals with a view to putting forward its own plan.

Russia has proposed setting up a fuel bank in Siberia under IAEA supervision, while Germany has made its own suggestion for an international enrichment centre.

Iran has given a cool response when the idea of enriching its fuel on foreign soil has been brought up before.

Solana said Tehran's decision to press ahead with enrichment when the only power plant under construction in Iran will be supplied with fuel from Russia created a ''confidence problem''.

''Iran is trying to enrich uranium. But it's a little as if one were trying to make one's own petrol before having even bought a car or learned how to drive,'' he said.

REUTERS RSA RAI2238

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