* Russia may be irritated with calls for new
* Israel has threatened military action against Iran
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 3 Russian Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov stayed away from a meeting of six world powers on
the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week because he
had to attend another "urgent matter," Russia's U.N. mission
said on Wednesday.
Last week, a foreign ministerial-level meeting was convened
in New York with the five permanent U.N. Security Council
members - The United States, France, Britain, Russia and China -
and Germany. The meeting was inconclusive, diplomats said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also
attended the meeting. She said afterword participants had
"discussed at length the need for Iran to take action urgently
as we considered the Iranian nuclear issue."
But in what U.N. diplomats said could be a sign of the
growing divide between Russia and Western powers on Iran and
Syria, Lavrov was not at the meeting. Russian U.N. Ambassador
Vitaly Churkin attended instead.
A spokesman for Russia's U.N. mission confirmed Lavrov's
absence, saying: "The Minister had to attend to some other
urgent matter, as far as I know."
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attended, envoys said.
The meeting of the so-called "P5-plus-one" group came on the
same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew his
"red line" for Iran's nuclear program, on Thursday, saying
Tehran may be on the brink of an atom bomb in less than a year.
He suggested Israel might have to make a decision on whether
to attack Iran's nuclear facilities by spring 2013.
Iran is under U.N., U.S. and European Union sanctions for
refusing to halt nuclear enrichment, which Western powers and
their allies fear is part of a plan to amass the capability to
produce nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, saying its
atomic work is for medicine and generating electricity.
Diplomats said Britain, France and Germany's calls ahead of
the U.N. General Assembly session for additional EU sanctions
against Iran could have been a reason for Lavrov's absence.
Moscow has repeatedly criticized unilateral U.S. and EU
sanctions against Tehran.
RESISTS SANCTIONS ON SYRIA
One senior Western diplomat told Reuters the Security
Council would never adopt another round of sanctions against
Iran because of Russian and Chinese resistance.
Russia, Western diplomats say, has become increasingly
resistant to Western powers on Iran and the 18-month-long
conflict in Syria, which they say Tehran is exacerbating by
supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three resolutions criticizing
Assad's crackdown on the revolt in Syria against his autocratic
regime and have said they would not support sanctions.
Russia and China have reluctantly supported four rounds of
U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program but worked
hard to water down the measures in negotiations on the Security
Council resolutions prior to their adoption.
For nearly 10 years, the six powers have negotiated
unsuccessfully with Iran to persuade it to halt its nuclear
program in exchange for political and economic incentives.
Israeli officials say Netanyahu's "red line" will have been
crossed when Iran amasses enough uranium enriched to a level of
20 percent of the fissile isotope uranium-235 for one bomb.
That, the officials say, is the point when Netanyahu says
Tehran could no longer be stopped from obtaining an atomic
weapon, even though it would still need to enrich the uranium
further to the point where it was weapons grade - over 90
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held out the
possibility on Wednesday that sanctions on Iran could be eased
quickly if Tehran worked with major powers to address questions
about its nuclear program.