Thursday, November 17, 2005

Russia Angered by Iran Nuke Plans

CBS News:
Russia is increasingly frustrated with Iran's reluctance to compromise on its nuclear activities, and that anger is helping the United States and other nations seeking to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council, diplomats said Thursday. Both Russia and China are veto-wielding members of the Security Council and both oppose Iran being referred to the top U.N. decision making body.

But increasing frustration in Moscow could swing the Russians closer to the U.S.-European position and indirectly pressure Beijing to also join the mainstream and moderate its opposition to Security Council action, one diplomat said. He, like others talking to The Associated Press, demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging confidential information. READ MORE

Russia has played an increasingly important role in getting Iran back to negotiations meant to pressure Tehran to compromise on its plans for uranium enrichment. The Americans and Europeans recently agreed to give up their demand that Iran renounce enrichment and related activities and endorsed a plan that would allow Iran to convert uranium but move the enrichment process to Russia.

Carrying out the enrichment in Russia theoretically would deny Iran the capacity to produce weapons grade uranium for nuclear weapons — something the Americans and their allies say Iran wants to do. Tehran insists it is interested in enrichment only to make nuclear fuel.

Russia, a key Iranian ally, has been increasingly active in the last few weeks to try and bridge differences between Tehran and the West, but has been frustrated by Iranian intransigence, the diplomats said.

Most recently, they said Iranian officials told the Russians on Wednesday they would not resume uranium conversion — only to restart the process a few hours later.

The move to restart conversion was expected. Iran had already served notice several weeks ago that it would process a new batch of raw uranium into a precursor of the gas used to enrich uranium.

Still, with Iran under international pressure to show it is willing to compromise on its insistence to having full control of the uranium enrichment process, Russia and other countries would have welcomed a decision not to resume conversion.

Senior Iranian officials told Russian counterparts just that on Wednesday, saying a relaunch was postponed for "technical reasons," the diplomats revealed.

The Russians interpreted that as a political signal that raised hopes of an easing of tensions a little more than two weeks before the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency meets in Vienna Nov. 24 to consider possible Security Council referral.

But just hours later, the Iranian officials told the Russians that conversion had restarted, further eroding the Russian goodwill needed by Tehran to deflect the U.S. and European push for Security Council involvement, the diplomats said.

A European official speaking from outside Vienna said the reversal — coming soon after Russian Security Council head Igor Ivanov had briefed senior European Union officials about Iran's readiness to compromise — embarrassed and angered the Russians.

A man answering the phone at the Russian diplomatic mission in Vienna responsible for the IAEA said the head of the mission was not available for comment.

In an effort to blunt chances of referral to the Security Council — which could impose sanctions — Iran recently allowed IAEA inspectors to revisit the Parchin military site, about 20 miles southeast of Tehran.

Diplomats have told the AP that initial results of environmental samples from the site showed no trace of radiation. U.S. officials say the site may be part of Iran's nuclear arms research program but that further tests were needed before a conclusion could be reached.

But diplomats said Thursday that additional evidence found recently by the agency could increase suspicions about Iran's nuclear aims.

They said a report by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to be presented to the Nov. 24 meeting will present new findings about "dual-use" equipment held by Iran — technology that can be used both for peaceful nuclear applications or in programs to make weapons.