European Union powers are ready to revive nuclear talks with Iran to discuss a Russian proposal aimed at defusing an impasse over what the West believes is an Iranian atomic bomb programme, diplomats said yesterday.

Under Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal, Iran would be allowed to continue converting uranium ore but would ship it to Russia for enrichment, a system which, in theory, would prevent Iran from producing weapons-grade uranium.

Iran, whose President last month said Israel should be "wiped off the map", denies Western allegations that it has a clandestine nuclear bomb programme and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity.

"We are considering a meeting in December in Vienna. The Iranians would have to say they want to meet and talk about the Russian proposal," a diplomat from the so-called EU3 - France, Britain and Germany - said on condition of anonymity.

He said the EU3 were prepared to make a major concession in the interest of resuming dialogue with Iran - they would be willing to meet even if Tehran did not reinstate a suspension of uranium processing activities at its Isfahan plant.

The trio had made this a condition of restarting talks, but Tehran has so far ruled out halting work at Isfahan.

Britain confirmed that a meeting with the Iranians was under consideration.

"We will consider next steps, including a possible meeting with the Iranians after the board," a British Foreign Office spokesman said, referring to tomorrow's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors on Iran.

No official comment was available from Tehran. However, EU officials said Iran would probably react positively, given that the Europeans and Americans were prepared to drop their demand that all work at Isfahan be halted before talks resumed.

Other EU3 officials confirmed a meeting was under consideration, but said many aspects -including the timing, the venue and the seniority of officials who would attend - were unclear and warned that it might never take place.

The EU3 broke off talks with Iran in August after the Islamic republic's new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ended the suspension of uranium processing activities, the cornerstone of a 2004 deal called the "Paris Agreement".

On Monday, EU and US officials said they would not push the IAEA's 35-nation board to refer Iran this week to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, as the Western powers had previously threatened to do.

The officials cited a desire to allow Iran more time to think about the Russian plan.

Last week, US President George W. Bush said he backed Mr Putin's initiative.

The proposal would allow Iran to continue converting uranium ore into gas at Isfahan if the most critical stage of nuclear fuel production - uranium enrichment - was transferred to Russia as part of a joint venture. In exchange, Iran would get economic and political benefits.

Iran has not formally rejected the Russian idea but has stressed repeatedly that it aims to enrich uranium domestically, calling this a sovereign right it would never renounce.

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