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Russia says it may consider Iran sanctions

PARIS/VIENNA (Reuters) - Russia will back new sanctions against Iran as long as they do not create a humanitarian crisis, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday after talks with Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (2nd R) speaks with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev (2nd L) as GDF-SUEZ CEO Gerard Mestrallet (R) and GAZPROM CEO Alex Miller (L) sign an agreement before a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris March 1, 2010. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Medvedev said he still hoped to avoid new punitive measures, but added Russia could not wait forever for cooperation by Tehran, suspected by the West of developing nuclear weapons.

“We are optimists and we are not losing the feeling that we may achieve success,” Medvedev said. “Nonetheless, if it doesn’t work out ... Russia is ready to consider with our other partners the question of introducing sanctions.

Sarkozy told reporters: “(Medvedev) told me of his receptiveness to the question of sanctions so long as they don’t create humanitarian dramas.”

Israel, which sees itself directly threatened by any Iranian nuclear breakthrough, voiced optimism that China would not veto any new U.N. Security Council sanctions, saying Beijing had listened attentively to a visiting Israeli delegation.

Russia, and even more so China, have been reluctant in the past to endorse any broader sanctions against Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons.

A draft fourth Security Council resolution is expected as soon as this week. Some Western diplomats have predicted it would contain a “symbolic” tightening of sanctions against Iranian government assets like the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

That would fall far short of the sanctions Israel wants imposed on Iran’s lifeblood oil exports and refined petroleum imports. Those hopes were dented when Washington said last week it opposed sanctions that could hurt the Iranian populace.

The new U.N. nuclear agency chief defended a report which said Iran could be trying to develop a nuclear missile.

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“In my view, this report is factual and absolutely impartial. That is the essence ... it took stock of the whole picture,” Yukiya Amano said told reporters. “I wanted the report to be clear, straightforward, easy to read and understand.”

He said intelligence information that hardened the IAEA’s disquiet about possible nuclear weapons-relevant activity in Iran was collected from multiple sources and was consistent in detail, timeline, and Iranian officials and agencies cited.

“We have an integrated team of experts, we have experience. And the information is extensive. We cross-check it. After this process, we are saying that altogether it raises concern.”

Iran increased disquiet in the IAEA about its behavior last month by, according to Amano’s report, starting enriching uranium to a higher, 20 percent purity before inspectors could get to the scene and enhance surveillance methods.


Iran’s move heightened suspicions that its goal is a stockpile of bomb-grade uranium enriched to 90 percent.

Iran insists its enrichment work is geared solely toward medical research and generating electricity, though it lacks a working nuclear power station.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki insisted the Islamic Republic had fully cooperated with the IAEA.

“There is no proof or reason to see diversion of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities. There is no document,” he told a news conference in Geneva.

Last month Iran announced a start to higher-scale enrichment that would refine uranium to 20 percent purity -- the level needed for conversion into fuel plates for its Tehran research reactor, which makes isotopes for cancer patients.

Iran moved 94 percent of its reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) above ground from its Natanz subterranean enrichment plant to draw what it needed to refine it up to 20 percent purity, then moved it back underground, Tehran’s IAEA envoy said.

He dismissed media speculation that Iran had placed a large amount of the material in a visible spot above ground to provoke an Israeli air strike that would give Iran a pretext to expel U.N. inspectors and develop atom bombs for security reasons.

Iran made its first official response last week to an IAEA-brokered proposal that it swap its LEU for foreign-made uranium enriched to 20 percent and help allay Western fears.

Talks on the deal were still under way, Mottaki said.#

“The issue of swap, it is possible to be carried out. The agreement could be made now, but the realization, the fulfillment of the swap needs time,” he said.

Iran says it will only accept a simultaneous swap on its soil. But that would be unacceptable to the United States and its European allies.

“The half-life of that offer is fading very, very rapidly ... Our energies now have to move in other directions and you know what they are,” Glyn Davies, United States envoy to the IAEA, told reporters.

Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Vienna, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Ralph Boulton