The Times: The US and Russia fell out over Iran’s nuclear programme last night as the two sides offered little sign of a deal to slash their own atomic arsenals. The Times
Tony Halpin, Moscow
The US and Russia fell out over Iran’s nuclear programme last night as the two sides offered little sign of a deal to slash their own atomic arsenals.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said that it was premature for Russia to open Iran’s first nuclear power station until Tehran allayed suspicions that it is secretly building an atomic bomb.
“We have said that Iran is entitled to civil nuclear power. It is a nuclear weapons programme that it is not entitled to,” she said. “If it reassures the world or if its behaviour has changed, then it can pursue peaceful nuclear power. In the absence of these reassurances, we think it would be premature to go forward with any project at this time.”
Despite her comments Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said “this project will be completed”. Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, confirmed that the Bushehr reactor would begin operations in the summer.
Mrs Clinton and Mr Lavrov spoke at a joint press conference after talks in Moscow on progress in negotiating a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start). Despite assurances that a deal is near, they offered no timetable for President Medvedev and President Obama to sign the new treaty.
Mrs Clinton scheduled a meeting with Mr Putin today amid signs that he is determined to extract fresh concessions over US plans for missile defence in Eastern Europe. Boris Gryzlov, the parliamentary leader of Mr Putin’s ruling United Russia party, threatened on Tuesday to block ratification of the treaty unless it included missile defence.
Asked about an offer from Ukraine to host the signing of the treaty, Mrs Clinton said: “First our negotiators have to sign on the dotted line that they have completed their negotiations.” Mr Lavrov predicted that a treaty would be ready “very soon” but neither he nor Mrs Clinton gave any hint that it would be before Mr Obama hosts a nuclear security summit in Washington on April 12. The US is pushing for a deal by next month to get the treaty ratified in Congress before midterm elections in November.
Previous Russian deadlines for completion of the $1 billion (£650 million) plant at Bushehr have slipped. But Mr Putin’s announcement came amid US pressure on the Kremlin to back tough new sanctions against Iran.
Mr Medvedev and Mr Obama agreed on a new nuclear treaty at their “reset summit” in Moscow in July last year but negotiators missed the original December 5 deadline, when Start expired. The two sides aim to reduce their stockpiles to a maximum of 1,675 warheads each and to cut their long-range missiles to no more than 1,100.