UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia opposes new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program at this time because it would undermine a study by the U.N. atomic watchdog of Iran’s activities, Russian news agencies said on Thursday.
Iran last month agreed to explain the scope of its nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but critics say the deal allows Tehran to address issues one by one in a long-drawn-out process that could last until December.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that since Iran had promised to clarify all issues, “interference by way of new sanctions would mean undermining” IAEA efforts, according to the Itar-Tass agency.
The United States, France and other allies want the U.N. Security Council to agree tougher sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which the West suspects is cover for bomb making. Iran says its program is for generating nuclear power.
Lavrov, in a briefing to Russian reporters in New York, said the Council might discuss tougher sanctions in the future but the time was not ripe. Instead the council should give Tehran an opportunity to carry out its agreement with the IAEA, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
In response, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the IAEA agreement was a technical one and should not delay any action by the Security Council.
“That cannot be used as a shield to protect Iran from its lack of implementation of the demands of the Security Council in regard to the enrichment of uranium that Iran has been asked to suspend twice,” he told reporters.
Russia and China previously voted for two sets of punitive measures after Tehran refused to suspend enrichment, and both nations have veto power in the 15-member Security Council.
Earlier, France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters that Lavrov had made clear in discussions with him that he was unlikely to support new U.N. sanctions until after the IAEA finished its survey in December.
“I think it would very difficult to convince the Russians and the Chinese before (then),” said Kouchner, who said he had spent hours trying in vain to persuade Lavrov to join western states in a new round of tighter sanctions against Iran.
RETURN TO COUNCIL?
Russia, backed by China, has not flatly refused to allow the issue to return to the Security Council but diplomats said Lavrov did not engage in any of the discussions this week on what a new set of sanctions would entail.
Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exchanged sharp words at a meeting of major industrial states here on Wednesday when he condemned Western moves to take unilateral sanctions outside the U.N. framework if the Security Council was deadlocked, participants at the meeting said.
British Foreign Minister David Miliband, in briefing reporters, stressed the importance of unity among the major powers, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, which would negotiate a resolution.
“The most important thing is that the unanimity of the international community is valued by all six (powers) and sends a very clear signal to Iran and we need to keep that going.”
Asked about U.S. and French calls for sanctions outside the Security Council, Miliband said: “It’s already the case that European Union countries have taken greater action than was required by the Security Council. That is healthy and good.”
He said companies and banks were making their own decisions about investment based on the political risk.
“The figures on the fall in European investment in Iran in the first 6 months of this year are spectacular,” he said, citing a 40 percent decrease. “There is evidence of sanctions having an effect.”
(additional reporting by Paul Taylor)
Editing by David Storey; Reuters messaging: Evelyn.Leopold.firstname.lastname@example.org; 1-212-355-7424
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