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Russia still seeks Iran solution

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MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has said it will continue to probe avenues for diplomatic cooperation with Iran over its nuclear program but France said that uranium enrichment must be suspended before talks resume.

Speaking a day after Iran responded to a package of incentives offered by world powers for Tehran to roll back its nuclear program, Moscow said it was time for the international community to seize the initiative.

"Russia will continue with the idea of seeking a political, negotiated settlement concerning Iran's nuclear program, maintaining the role of the IAEA and rejecting dilution of the principles of non-proliferation," Interfax news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based United Nations nuclear watchdog.

Kamynin said Russia and the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, who are involved in negotiations, were working out a joint response to Iran's stand.

"It is very important to understand the nuances and grasp constructive elements, if in fact they exist, and work out how to work further with Tehran on the basis of known proposals of the six countries," Interfax quoted him as saying.

But France said the nuclear program must stop before talks can resume. "I want to point out again that France is available to negotiate, and to recall that, as we have always said ... a return to the negotiating table is linked to the suspension of uranium enrichment," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Wednesday.

The Tehran government on Monday offered to resume talks about its nuclear program but gave no public indication on whether it would agree to halt uranium enrichment and reprocessing.

Iran's state-run news agency, IRNA, quoted the country's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani as saying that Iran "tried to pave the way for fair talks with a logical and positive approach."

"Despite other parties' breach of commitments, the Islamic Republic of Iran has proposed a constructive course," Larijani said, according to IRNA.

The semiofficial Iranian Fars News Agency quoted unnamed sources as saying the Iranian government had rejected suspension of its nuclear activities, "but it has proposed a new formula for resolving the issue through talks."

White House officials took a wait-and-see attitude about the Iranian response, which was still being studied.

"Let's let the diplomats take a look at this response before we parse too much here," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

However, Perino indicated the Bush administration took a dim view of recent statements by Iranian officials that they would not consider suspending uranium enrichment, which U.S. officials charge could be a prelude to building nuclear weapons.

"The president made very clear to everyone ... that he thinks that that is a mistake and dangerous for the region and the whole world," Perino said.

Iranian officials have insisted that their nuclear program is solely for peaceful generation of power and that they have no ambitions to build nuclear weapons.

On July 31, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution giving Iran until the end of next week to agree to suspend its uranium enrichment program, which would pave the way for the Tehran regime to receive financial incentives.

The United States has also held out the possibility of resuming direct contacts with Iran, more than 25 years after the two countries broke off diplomatic relations.

However, if the Iranians do not accept the offer, then the U.N. Security Council will discuss a resolution proposing economic sanctions on Iran.

While such a move is backed by three of the council's permanent members -- the United States, Britain and France -- the two others, Russia and China, have been cool to the idea and could use their veto to block a sanctions resolution.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said Tuesday that the U.S. "will be prepared to submit elements of a resolution very quickly" if Iran did not accept what he termed a "very generous offer."

"This is a test for the (Security) Council," Bolton said. "We will see how it responds."

Even if Iran rejected suspension of its uranium program in its initial response, some U.N. diplomats were holding out hope that the Iranians might change their mind before the August 31 deadline set out in the Security Council resolution.

"In between, anything can happen, in between August 22nd and the 31st," said Nana Effah-Apenteng, the U.N. ambassador from Ghana, which currently holds the Security Council's rotating presidency.

Larijani formally delivered Iran's response to the ambassadors of Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and Switzerland during a meeting in Tehran on Tuesday.

Switzerland is representing the interests of the United States because Washington does not have diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Larijani has also discussed Iran's response with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Solana's office issued a statement saying that the document "is extensive and therefore requires a detailed and careful analysis."

"Pending this detailed analysis, I will be in contact with the different key interlocutors and will remain in open contact with (Larijani)," Solana said.

CNN correspondents Aneesh Raman, Richard Roth and Ed Henry contributed to this report

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