Russia's foreign minister said Friday that his country hopes for more talks with Iran,
despite US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's calls for new UN sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
Despite strong support from NATO allies after a new US intelligence report
that concludes Iran actually stopped atomic weapons development in 2003 but remains a threat, Rice was unable to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the urgency of new sanctions.
"It fully confirms the information that we have: that there is no military element in their nuclear program. We hope very much that these negotiations with Iran will continue," Lavrov told reporters after meeting with Rice on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels.
Lavrov has maintained Russia has no evidence that Tehran had ever had a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international treaty obligations.
His comments were not unexpected given past Russian statements on the issue, but nevertheless dealt a setback to efforts to boost pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities with a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution.
US President George W. Bush and Rice have argued that the report actually shows that Iran is susceptible to outside influence on its nuclear program because it finds that Tehran stopped its armament attempts four years ago in response to diplomatic pressure. "It was international pressure that got the Iranians to halt their program," Rice said before her talks with Lavrov. "This suggests that you ought to keep up that international pressure."
Her meetings in Belgium were her first face-to-face exchanges on the matter since the intelligence report became public.
Rice saw Lavrov after having won NATO backing to stay the course on a two-pronged approach to Iran that offers the Islamic regime civilian nuclear cooperation in return for a shutdown of uranium enrichment and reprocessing. "There was unanimity around the table that there is a clear choice for Iran," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters, noting offers of nuclear cooperation with Iran if it stops enriching and reprocessing uranium.
"Iran can see the outstretched hand from the international community if they are willing to join the drive against proliferation," he said. "But if Iran persists on defying the will of the United Nations Security Council, then there must be further sanctions."
But Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow had never seen evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, not even one that it had given up on four years ago. Rice had hoped to convince Lavrov that the new intelligence proved the value of tough diplomacy rather than undermining the drive to press for more sanctions.
"In fact, I would think given the assessment that Iran is indeed susceptible to coordinated international pressure that (this) is the right approach," she said.