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Iran: Russian, U.S. Officials Discuss Tehran's Nuclear Program

  • Golnaz Esfandiari --> Lavrov and Rice in Washington today (epa) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Russia has not told the United States of any new proposal made to the Iranians. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also denied his country had made a "compromise" proposal that would allow Iran to enrich uranium, even in small quantities. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors is due to continue its deliberations on Iran on March 8 as the crisis over Iran's nuclear program appears far from resolved. The United States insists that Iran should not be allowed "to cross the red international line" and yet there is talk in the corridors of the IAEA of the need to continue negotiations.

PRAGUE, March 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The United States today reiterated its rejection of Iran being allowed to enrich uranium.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a joint press conference in Washington with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavorov that the United States has been "very clear" that uranium enrichment on Iranian soil is not acceptable because of the risk that the technology could be used for military purposes.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said that as a trust-building measure, the IAEA should compensate Iran for suspending its sensitive nuclear activities since 2003.

No Enrichment

Earlier today, White House spokesman Scott McClellan also said "[Iran] cannot be allowed to pursue enrichment in any capacity or on any scale that would allow the regime to develop technologies needed to develop nuclear weapons."

News agencies report that IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei's latest report on Iran's nuclear activities confirms that Tehran has resumed some nuclear fuel work. The report will be discussed by board members on 8 March.

The comments by U.S. officials came after news agency reports that Iran is offering to suspend full-scale uranium enrichment for up to two years while refusing to freeze small-scale enrichment.

Quoting an unnamed diplomat in Vienna, AP reports that the offer was made in the context of talks between Tehran and Moscow on transferring Iran's enrichment program to Russia.

Russia Says No Compromise

But Lavrov said today after meeting with Rice that Russia's negotiations with Iran have centered on trying to persuade Iran to comply with the demands of the UN's nuclear watchdog agency.

He said Russia made no "compromise" on its proposal to enrich Iran's uranium on Russian soil.

"This [Russian uranium-enrichment] initiative is not a new one. It was welcomed by all participants of the process, and there is no compromise proposals and there could not be any compromise proposal."

Rice and Lavrov are due to have a meeting later today with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Rice said at the press conference that there is still time for Iran to change its ways.

"There is still time, of course, for the Iranians to react [to developments], but we have been very clear that we did not think that, as a first matter, we would try to move to sanctions in the first step of the [UN] Security Council," she said.

White House spokesman McClellan said today the United States expects action to be taken by the Security Council once the IAEA Board of Governors concludes its review of Iran's nuclear dossier.

But China said that the issue can still be settled within the framework of the UN nuclear agency and urged Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told deputies that "confrontation should be avoided at all costs." He added that "for this to be possible, time must be given for diplomacy to work. Confrontation is not in the interest of India or of our region."

Cautiously Optimistic

On March 6, IAEA Director-General el-Baradei expressed cautious optimism that a deal could be reached in the coming days to prevent the case from being referred to the UN Security Council. El-Baradei's report will also be sent to the UN Security Council.

The report, which has already been leaked to the press, also says that the IAEA -- despite its ongoing investigation and monitoring efforts -- is not in a position to determine whether the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Last month the IAEA, in a resolution, called on Iran to go back to the suspension of its uranium-enrichment program -- including research and development -- and to be more cooperative and more transparent.

But Iran has refused to halt its nuclear research activities, saying that doing so is its "legitimate right."

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney warned today that "the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences" if Iran continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions. He said Iran will not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and says its nuclear activities are peaceful.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said that as a trust-building measure, the IAEA should compensate Iran for suspending its sensitive nuclear activities since 2003.

Ahmadinejad was quoted by Iranian state television as saying that the compensation would be for damage to the development of the country's science and technology sectors, and to corresponding economic losses -- all due to the suspension.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at