Iran confirmed on Tuesday it had resumed uranium enrichment but agreed to the resumption of talks with Russia aimed at defusing the international stand-off over its nuclear programme.

Javad Vaeedi, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said the talks would take place on February 20. They aim to discuss proposals to enrich his country’s uranium in Russia to allay international concerns it might divert the material into weapons use.

In a joint statement release by the Kremlin during a visit by Dominique de Villepin, French prime minister, Russia and France called on Iran to stop work linked with nuclear fuel, urging Tehran to “fulfil the February resolution and the demands of the governing council of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including the full cessation of all activities connected with enrichment and processing. ”

Separately, the European Union on Tuesday applauded Moscow’s initiative on the eve of talks with Russia in Vienna. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU external relations commissioner, said Russia was “playing a constructive role in the search for a diplomatic solution”.

Though Tehran confirmed it had resumed uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant, it denied production was on an industrial scale.

The enrichment, which is apparently being done in the plant’s research facilities, is not enough to make fuel for reactors or produce weapons, but it signals Iran’s determination to press ahead with its nuclear programme despite the February 4 decision of the IAEA to refer it to the UN security council.

Mr Vaeedi said Iran needed time “to have 60,000 centrifuges” – referring to the devices used to spin uranium hexafluoride gas into enriched uranium. But he added it had begun “the preliminary stage”.

The announcement by Mr Vaeedi on the Moscow talks seemed to contradict a government spokesman’s statement on Monday that they had been postponed indefinitely because of the “new situation”, a reference to Russia voting at the IAEA for Iran’s referral to the security council.

Iranian officials have blown hot and cold on the Russian idea, which is incompatible with Tehran’s insistence that it enrich at home. Mr Vaeedi said Iran wanted a “formula to prove we will not divert uranium enriched on Iranian soil”.

Mohammed ElBaredei, the IAEA director general, is due to produce another report on Iran’s programme in early March.

While the US and the EU strongly back referral to the security council, which could impose sanctions, Russia and China are less keen.

Liu Jianchao, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman, on Tuesday reiterated China’s preference for “diplomatic efforts under the IAEA framework ..[and] … a solution through dialogue”.

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