Russia resists US on Iran curbs

Threats of pressure now would be counterproductive, says Moscow

The minister, Sergey V Lavrov, said after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here that diplomacy should be given a chance to work, particularly after a meeting in Geneva this month in which the Iranian government said it would allow United Nations inspectors to visit a clandestine nuclear enrichment facility near the holy city of Qum.

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions, and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

While Lavrov’s skepticism about sanctions is not new, his comments came just three weeks after President Obama cancelled an antimissile defence system in Eastern Europe that Russia had strongly objected to, raising hopes of cooperation on Iran. Two weeks ago, President Dmitri A Medvedev told President Obama that “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.” Prime Minister Vladimir V Putin, who was in China on a trade mission on Tuesday and missed Clinton, has spoken out against using punitive measures against Tehran.

At a minimum, the Russian government does not seem ready to contemplate additional sanctions as long as Iran and the West are still in active negotiations over its nuclear program.

The next milestone in that process is on Sunday, when Iran and officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency are to meet to discuss the details of a plan to ship a majority of Iran’s stockpile of lightly-enriched uranium out of the country to be enriched in Russia to a higher grade.

Though Clinton stressed the importance of diplomacy, too, she reiterated the administration’s view that it must be backed up by a credible threat of sanctions to keep the Iranians from dragging their feet.

“In the absence of any significant progress, we will be seeking to rally international opinion behind additional sanctions,” she said at a joint news conference with Lavrov.
Clinton insisted the United States did not make any specific requests of Russia at the meeting. But a day earlier, a senior official traveling with her said the US would be looking for “specific forms of pressure” that Russia would be prepared to back.

After the meeting, a senior State Department official said, “They said they were not ready in this context to talk specifically about what steps they were ready to take,” preferring to do so at the UN.

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