Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Financial Times: Russia tries to break impasse with Iran

FT:Russia said yesterday it would seek to resolve the impasse over Iran's controversial nuclear programme, in asign of Moscow's increasing importance in international attempts to broker a deal with Iran.

On a day of intensive diplomacy in Moscow, Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, saw both Manouchehr Mottaki, his Iranian opposite number, and Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser.

"We agreed to continue contacts on this question and work on a settlement together with other countries, in particular the EU3 [of France, Germany, and the UK]," Mr Lavrov said after his meeting with Mr Mottaki.

While the US and the European Union suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Iran denies having any such intention.

But negotiations between the EU3 and Iran broke down after Tehran rejected a European proposal in August and resumed work on uranium conversion, a preliminary part of the nuclear cycle it had previously suspended as part of a framework deal.

The prospect of direct EU-Iranian talks has since faded, because of disagreement over the Europeans' insistence that Iran stop all conversion once again. But Iran has maintained a freeze on uranium enrichment -a process that can produce weapons-grade material.

Attention has now shifted to Russia's attempt to break the deadlock.

Moscow has floated the idea that rather than use Iranian territory to carry out uranium enrichment, Tehran could do so as part of an international joint venture on Russian soil. While the EU appeared to reject the Russian proposal several months ago, today they are asking for more details and even the US has indicated interest.

"The Russians . . . want to do what we all want to do, which is they want to pursue a diplomatic path and see if the Iranians will come along," said Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, at the weekend.

However, it is by no means certain that the Russians can produce a mutually satisfactory solution. Yesterday Mr Mottaki said that even if its nuclear programme was referred to the UN Security Council, Iran would continue to fight for its right to develop nuclear power.