MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and Western powers have moved closer to agreement on the need for further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, a leading Russian lawmaker said on Thursday.
Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Konstantin Kosachyov’s remarks were the strongest recent sign from Moscow that Russia could support a resolution on new economic sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, where it has veto power.
“As regards a tougher conversation with Iran, the application of some additional sanctions of an economic character, on this question mutual understanding between Russia and its partners in the international arena has clearly increased,” he said.
Kosachyov, head of the International Affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, expressed concern over Iran’s latest rocket test and its defiance of international demands it stop uranium enrichment.
“The situation is beginning to alarm us more and more,” he told state-owned Rossiya-24 television in an interview.
Kosachyov’s comments fell short of an outright endorsement of sanctions, and they left room for Tehran to play for time as it tries to avoid further punishment.
But they will likely please the United States, which accuses Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons and has been courting Moscow’s backing for potential new sanctions.
Russia and China have watered down three previous rounds of Western-proposed sanctions before approving them.
Moscow has shown signs of increasing frustration at Iran’s wavering over a proposal under which it would send uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment into fuel — an offer designed to ensure Iran does not use it for weapons.
Iran initially appeared to accept the deal, then signaled its rejection. On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is ready to send uranium abroad, but Tehran has not followed up with a concrete proposal.
“The problem is that Iran is constantly changing its conditions,” Kosachyov said.
Shortly after he spoke, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko urged Iran to convey its position formally to the U.N. nuclear agency. He said Tehran should clarify whether it was dropping its insistence on the simultaneous exchange of uranium for fuel on Iranian territory.
Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Mahmoud Reza Sajadi, told Reuters that such issues were not set in stone.
“As the president mentioned, it’s under discussion and we are looking for a suitable formula — not making a precondition,” the ambassador said. “We are ready, open for discussion.”
Kosachyov said it was clear that Iran wants to preserve the right to enrich uranium, but “with what aims, we unfortunately do not know. This is precisely what raises the concern of Russia, of the United States and of European countries.”
When seeking to slow Western pushes for sanctions in the past, Russian officials have stressed that they saw no proof of the U.S. claim that Tehran has pursued nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.
Russia has close ties with Iran and is building the nation’s first nuclear power reactor.
Editing by Philippa Fletcher