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W House cautious on Iran-Russia nuclear deal

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) The White House reacted skeptically today to reports that Iran had reached an agreement with Russia on a proposed joint venture to enrich uranium in Russia.

Russia's original proposal -- welcomed by the White House -- had been for Iran's uranium to be enriched in Russia to defuse suspicions that Iran might divert some nuclear fuel into a weapons program.

However, Iran has always insisted upon its right to enrich the uranium it mines in its central desert on its own soil, and it was uncertain how the original Russian proposal could be tailored to please Tehran.

It was unclear what the new agreement announced in Iran yesterday involved.

''We'll see, but given their history you can understand why we remain skeptical,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Iran.

Alarmed by Iran's resumption of nuclear fuel research, including some small-scale enrichment, and curbs on inspectors' access to suspected sites, Western nations are expected to call for Iran to be referred to the U N Security Council at a March 6 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U N atomic watchdog.

''We'll see what happens with the discussions with Russia but our concerns are very well known,'' McClellan said.

He said Iran needed to suspend all enrichment activities as required by the IAEA, noting that he had seen comments from an Iranian official suggesting Iran will continue to conduct some enrichment activities in Iran.

''The international community has expressed their concerns about the regime's intentions. We are concerned about Iran pursuing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program and the regime has shown that it cannot be trusted,'' McClellan said.

REUTERS SI KN2204

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