Russian Concerns About Iran Resolution Eased

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 11 -- Senior Russian officials said on Monday that European negotiators have overcome many of their objections to a draft U.N. Security Council resolution barring Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and ballistic missiles, and that an agreement may be in sight.

But Moscow's and Beijing's U.N. envoys sought to eliminate, or at least water down, some of the resolution's toughest provisions. They include an asset freeze and a travel ban on 23 entities and people linked to Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

"We are still uncertain that as a matter of principle this travel ban should be included" in the resolution, Russia's ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, told reporters after two closed-door meetings of the five permanent council members and Germany.

Churkin expressed concern that financial sanctions on people and entities linked to Iran's nuclear programs could hamper Iran's legal nuclear energy work. "We need to make sure it's clear those financial actions don't impede those activities," he said.

Still, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised the revised draft presented on Friday by Britain, France and Germany, saying it echoed Moscow's preference for pursuing a diplomatic strategy that encourages Iran "to sit down at the negotiating table." He said it was carefully drafted to ban only those sensitive nuclear activities, including the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, that the council was seeking to stop.

"The new draft does not provide for blanket sanctions," Lavrov said, according to a report by Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

"It contains a concrete list of steps aimed at not allowing supplies of technology which causes concerns in the International Atomic Energy Agency," he said, referring to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The new initiative comes nearly nine months after the Security Council first called on Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium, citing concerns that it might be diverted to a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Tehran has repeatedly ignored the 15-nation council's demands to suspend its enrichment activities, asserting that it is seeking to produce nuclear energy, not weapons.

Russia opposed an earlier European resolution on Iran, saying it would have prevented Tehran from pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program. It also objected to a provision exempting a Russian deal to build an $800 million reactor at Bushehr, in southern Iran.

Russia maintains that Iran has the right, under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to produce nuclear power at the Bushehr site, and that there is no reason to refer to it in the resolution.

The Bush administration had pressed for a broader ban on imports of nuclear and ballistic materials, citing concerns that Iran would use Bushehr and other facilities as a cover for diverting equipment and materials for production of nuclear weapons. The current European draft would ban trade only in those materials that can be linked to enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and construction of a heavy-water nuclear power reactor, which produces plutonium.

"We are focusing on what is really dangerous," said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. He added that the council would lift sanctions if Iran suspends its most controversial nuclear activities.

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