Britain, Germany and France have urged Tehran to let Russia enrich the uranium mined in Iran to ensure it is processed only into the low-grade fuel needed for power stations.

The US believes Iran has plans to enrich the uranium to the higher grade needed for atomic warheads. Iran denies the charge.

Speaking on national television, Hossein Entezami, the spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said: ""The two sides are going to discuss Russia's proposal for joint uranium enrichment, the scale of this, and also enrichment on Iranian soil.

Russia is a key nuclear ally of Iran, and is helping it build a nuclear power station at the Gulf port of Bushehr.

Possible sanctions

Javad Vaeedi, the deputy head of the SNSC, said late last year that agreeing to talks with Russia did not mean Iran had abandoned its drive to enrich uranium on its own soil.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, said on Thursday Iran would start research work on nuclear fuel next week despite warnings from the West this could undermine efforts to secure a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute.

 

Iran faces referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions if the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) votes to report Tehran at its next meeting.

 

The next scheduled IAEA board meeting is on 6 March, but an emergency session could be called before then.