Monday, March 13, 2006

Russia Scathing on Iran's Nuclear Diplomacy

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters:
Iran said on Monday it was still interested in a Russian compromise solution to its nuclear dispute with the West, but Russia's foreign minister said the Iranians were fouling up Moscow's diplomatic efforts. "We are extremely disappointed with the way Iran is behaving in the course of these talks," Russia's RIA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

"Iran is absolutely no help to those who want to find peaceful ways to solve this problem." READ MORE

Lavrov said bilateral Iran-Russia talks would take place in the near future at Tehran's request, but gave no details.

A senior Iranian official earlier insisted Tehran wanted a diplomatic way out of the nuclear standoff and was still considering the Russian proposal, apparently retracting remarks by the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman a day earlier.

Tehran has sent mixed signals on Russia's offer to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil to supply Iranian nuclear power reactors and ensure no fuel is diverted to bomb-making.

The U.N. Security Council, which can impose sanctions, is due to consider Iran's nuclear dossier this week after the Islamic Republic failed to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that its atomic work was purely peaceful.

"The Russian proposal should be reviewed with respect to the new developments," Hossein Entezami, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, told the state news agency IRNA.

"Tehran has repeatedly said that it welcomes any solution which could help to resolve Iran's nuclear issue."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on Sunday: "Now the situation has changed. The Russian proposal is not on the agenda."

Russia's Interfax news agency also reported that Tehran had made it clear that it was still considering the compromise and that, as far Moscow was concerned, the offer still stood.

So far the sticking point has been Iran's refusal to abandon at least some uranium enrichment on its own soil for "research".

The West fears that even small-scale enrichment would unlock the know-how Iran would need to make nuclear weapons. the Iranians have so far stood firm on their quest for such technology, saying they want it only to generate electricity.


U.S. officials and European diplomats have said they believe Iran is simply toying with the Russian plan to avoid any sanctions and gain time in which to accelerate enrichment work.

Iran argues that it is being unjustly singled out, compared with nuclear proliferators such as India, Pakistan and Israel.

"We will not abandon our right (to nuclear technology) because of the cruel and unfair demands of some countries," state television quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying.

Ahmadinejad provoked international outrage last year when he called for Israel's destruction, intensifying fears that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would destabilize the Middle East.

The dispute could set Iran on a collision course with the Security Council, where Washington may push for sanctions against Tehran if it does not bend to IAEA demands for cooperation with U.N. inspectors and a freeze on all nuclear fuel activities.

The U.S. administration has said all options are on the table to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.

However, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said military action was inconceivable and was not on the U.S. agenda.

"No American president is ever going to theoretically rule out any option, in practice military action is not on the Americans' agenda," Straw told BBC radio.

"This is an issue which has to be resolved, yes by pressure, but by peaceful and democratic means," he added.

Lavrov, in a separate newspaper interview, urged the United States and its European allies not to turn their backs on the IAEA as a tool to resolve the dispute, saying there was no strategy for action in the Security Council.

Russia and China strongly oppose sanctions against Iran.

Lavrov was quoted by Vremya Novostei newspaper as calling for a meeting in Vienna involving IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, the EU trio of Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia, China and the United States, to discuss the next move.

"EU3" diplomats in Vienna said they expected discussions to be pursued within the council rather than elsewhere in the immediate future. An IAEA diplomat said the agency had received no proposal or request for ElBaradei to join such talks.

(Additional reporting by Meg Clothier in Moscow, David Clarke in London and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)