World News

West's Iran concern is valid-Russia security chief

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions are well-founded, Russia’s national security chief said on Tuesday, and suggested that more than diplomacy might be needed to end Tehran’s defiance.

Iranian flag is pictured in front of Iran's Foreign Ministry building in Tehran November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/Files

The remarks from the hawkish secretary of the presidential Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, strengthened indications that Russia could agree to new U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Patrushev noted that Iran insists it is not seeking nuclear weapons. “But the actions it is taking ... raise doubts in other countries and those doubts are quite valid,” he said in televised comments.

He referred to Iran’s announcement that it began work on Tuesday to produce higher-grade nuclear fuel for a research reactor by enriching uranium to 20 percent.

Tehran has angered the United States, Europe and Russia by refusing to accept a U.N.-brokered proposal under which it would send low-enriched uranium to Russia in exchange for fuel for the reactor.

In the past, top Russian officials including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have sought to slow U.S. initiatives to punish Tehran by saying that Russia, which is building Iran’s first atomic power plant, has no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

While neither Putin nor President Dmitry Medvedev has commented recently on the need for sanctions, Patrushev’s remarks echoed other officials and lawmakers who have expressed increasing frustration with Iran.

“Political-diplomatic methods are important for a resolution, but there is a limit to everything,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The United States said it wants the U.N. Security Council to approve a new sanctions resolution within weeks. Washington and its allies need the support of veto-wielding council members China and Russia, which have weakened previous sanctions.

Patrushev, a Putin ally, suggested that Moscow would still like to avoid sanctions. According to Russian news agencies, he said there were differences of opinion among the six powers seeking to rein in Iran’s nuclear programme.

“We favour a resolution through diplomatic methods, but unfortunately neither we nor the international community have been able to achieve that so far,” Itar-Tass quoted him as saying.

At the same time, Patrushev reiterated Russia’s opposition to any attack on Iran, signalling concern that the United States or Israel could strike the Islamic nation to halt what they say is a covert nuclear weapons programme.

“It’s very important that war not be permitted, but the threat of the outbreak of war exists. Theoretically it exists, and a number of countries do not rule the possibility of military action,” he said, according to RIA.

Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Guy Faulconbridge/ David Stamp