Reuters: Iran showed few signs on Tuesday that it was ready to strike a deal with Russia that could allay fears it wants nuclear arms and avert possible U.N. sanctions. By Oleg Shchedrov
MOSCOW, Feb 21 (Reuters) – Iran showed few signs on Tuesday that it was ready to strike a deal with Russia that could allay fears it wants nuclear arms and avert possible U.N. sanctions.
A senior U.S. official said Russia’s role was helpful but Iran was ignoring international advice on the nuclear issue.
“We think Iran is clearly continuing to miscalculate the will of the world community,” U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, told reporters in Moscow.
After two days of talks in Moscow, Russian and Iranian negotiators said they planned more discussions this week on a Russian proposal to enrich uranium for Iran, seen as a way to ensure Tehran cannot divert nuclear fuel into bomb-making.
But the two sides appeared far apart, with Iran’s foreign minister ruling out any return to a moratorium on uranium enrichment, which Russia has repeatedly demanded.
“We discussed a joint formula and we will continue talks,” said Ali Hosseinitash, deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security, who led his country’s delegation in Moscow.
“Our assessment of this offer is positive,” he added.
The Russians were more circumspect, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin saying only that Moscow’s proposal had been examined in detail and that more talks were planned.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia’s atomic energy agency Rosatom, is due to travel to Iran on Thursday.
Kamynin, quoted by Itar-Tass news agency, said Moscow had again stressed that Iran must restore the enrichment moratorium.
However, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said this was out of the question and Tehran would press ahead with its nuclear work with or without the Russian plan.
“Returning to the suspension of our nuclear activities is not on our agenda,” Mottaki said in Tehran.
PLAYING FOR TIME?
U.S. officials suggest Iran is discussing the Russian plan merely to gain time, a view shared by many Russian commentators.
“Their aim is to haggle, to put off as long as possible the hour when sanctions from the international community become unavoidable,” wrote the daily Izvestia.
Tehran has said it will consider a joint venture with Russia and possibly others to enrich uranium for power stations, but reserves the right to pursue enrichment at home as well. It says it wants nuclear fuel only to produce electricity, not bombs.
Iran may face action by the U.N. Security Council after Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, issues a broad report on Tehran’s nuclear programme to a March 6 meeting of the U.N. watchdog’s governing board.
The report is to be circulated to members of the 35-nation board on Feb. 27 so they can digest its conclusions and forwarded to the Security Council after the meeting in Vienna.
Diplomats say they doubt the Security Council will rush into sanctions, which Russia, China and other countries oppose.
It may first pass a resolution repeating the IAEA board’s demands on Iran to re-suspend all enrichment-related work and answer questions outstanding after three years of inquiries. A next step could be to expand the agency’s inspection powers.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Iran to change tack to stave off punitive measures. “We do not rule out the possibility of economic sanctions completely,” he said.
Germany and other European countries have hardened their stance on the Iran nuclear issue after repeated calls by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the destruction of Israel.
Russia and China, which could veto any move by the United States and its European allies to impose sanctions on Tehran, share concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but do not want to sacrifice their commercial interests in the Islamic Republic.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman again urged Iran to restore a freeze on uranium enrichment activities to create the conditions for a negotiated solution.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said uranium was being enriched at its Natanz pilot plant to a level suitable for use in atomic reactors.
In defiant remarks quoted by the semi-official ISNA students news agency, he said neither sanctions nor military action could halt work that resumed at the plant in January.
“We achieved our nuclear knowledge when we were under sanctions and we didn’t obtain it from the West. So sanctions will have no effect on Iran’s nuclear activities,” he said.
“The Natanz facility is deep underground and no attack can damage it.” He reiterated that Iran could guarantee it will not divert nuclear fuel for bomb-making, possibly by having other countries take part in the Natanz project.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing, Teruaki Ueno in Tokyo, Meg Clothier in Moscow, Parisa Hafezi and Paul Hughes in Tehran, and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)