Russia Now Opposes Key Parts of Iran Draft

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 22, 2006; 10:37 AM

VIENNA, Austria -- Russia is unexpectedly opposing key parts of a U.S.-backed Security Council draft resolution on Iran's nuclear program, threatening international unity on how to handle Tehran's defiance, U.N. diplomats said Saturday.

Particularly vexing to the United States and its allies is Moscow's refusal to endorse language demanding that Tehran freeze uranium enrichment or face potential sanctions. That refusal appears to contradict previous signals suggesting Russia was ready to support a tougher line against Iran.

As recently as July 12, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered a veiled warning to Tehran on enrichment and its refusal to respond to an international offer to negotiate its nuclear program, saying the Security Council "will consider steps appropriate to the situation" if the Islamic republic does not comply.

The council has the power to impose political or economic sanctions.

Lavrov and his counterparts from the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany agreed that day to resume Security Council deliberations after Tehran refused requests to respond by that date to an international package of rewards in exchange for an enrichment freeze and other nuclear concessions.

Work on a resolution was suspended May 3 so the six powers could draw up a plan of perks for Iran to freeze enrichment and start talks meant to secure its agreement to a long-term moratorium on the activity, which can produce material for atomic weapons as well as fuel for reactors.

The incentives include advanced technology and the easing of U.S. sanctions on the sale of aircraft and aircraft parts.

While Iran argues it has a right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to use the technology to generate power, there is increasing international concern that Tehran wants to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels for use in the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

The United States, Britain and France are insisting on a freeze.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the dispute, told The Associated Press there was no indication what was dictating the apparent change in Russian tactics.

But it could be as simple as Moscow's belief that Tehran would not give up its right to enrichment. If so, any resolution demanding it do so and threatening penalties if it does not would escalate the confrontation _ something the Russians fear could lead to military action.

A draft resolution drawn up by Britain and France and circulated last week among most members of the 15-nation council demands that Tehran "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities ... and suspend the construction" of its heavy water reactor, which can produce plutonium.

One of the diplomats said that demand reflected the agreement among Russia and the five other nations at the July 12 meeting in the French capital but Moscow now was "trying to distance itself from the Paris declaration."

"They now want to water down the text," the diplomat said.

© 2006 The Associated Press