Monday, February 06, 2006

Russia Warns Against Conflict with Iran

Vladimir Isachenkov, Forbes:
Russia's foreign minister warned against threatening Iran over its nuclear program Monday after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reportedly agreed with a German interviewer that all options, including military response, remained on the table. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for talks to continue with Tehran, which was reported to the U.N. Security Council on Saturday by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"I think that at the current stage, it is important not to make guesses about what will happen and even more important not to make threats," Lavrov said during a visit to Athens, Greece. READ MORE

Rumsfeld, in an interview with the German daily newspaper Handelsblatt, was asked if all options, including the military one, were on the table with Iran.

"That's right," Rumsfeld responded, according to Handelsblatt's print edition Monday.

Lavrov said the use of force would be possible only if the United Nations consented.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors voted to report Iran to the Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions. Tehran responded by saying it would start full-scale uranium enrichment and bar surprise inspections of its facilities.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said Monday a proposed joint venture to enrich Iranian uranium in Russia would be possible only if Tehran resumed its moratorium on enrichment activities, Interfax reported.

Despite an earlier threat to the contrary, Iran said Sunday it was willing to discuss Moscow's proposal to shift large-scale enrichment operations to Russian territory in an effort to allay suspicions it is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Talks on the project were scheduled for Feb. 16 in Moscow. The Bush administration supports the proposal.

Uranium enriched to a low degree can be used for nuclear reactors, while highly enriched uranium is suitable for warheads. Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity, but the United States and some of its allies contend Tehran is trying to build a bomb.

The Islamic republic also left the door open for further international negotiations over its program.

Radzhab Safarov, a Moscow-based expert on Iran, said this month's talks in Moscow could produce a breakthrough because some Iranian politicians had questioned the wisdom of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's uncompromising course and had grown increasingly worried about growing international isolation.

"There is a strong chance that these talks will lead to a decision that would help defuse the situation," Safarov said at a news conference.

Safarov said any U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran would prompt Iran to retaliate by blocking oil deliveries through the Persian Gulf and throwing the global market into chaos.

France's foreign minister told Iranian officials Monday to "be careful" when considering whether to use economic sanctions to retaliate after the Security Council referral.

"The Iranians should be careful," Philippe Douste-Blazy said on France-Inter radio. "Isolating themselves would be very serious for them."

"They also need economic cooperation for their industries."

Iran reiterated its stance that it would not negotiate with the United States.

"There is no debate about relations and negotiation with the U.S. There has been no change in our policy," Gholamhossein Elham, Iran's government spokesman, said Monday.

Associated Press reporter Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.