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Russia Urges Restraint Over Iran Nuclear News

  • Nikola Krastev

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko at the UN) accused governments of keeping Moscow out of the loop on Iran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko at the UN) accused governments of keeping Moscow out of the loop on Iran.

UNITED NATIONS -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has responded to revelations about a previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear facility by urging all sides to exercise restraint until the details have been fully analyzed.

Speaking to RFE/RL in New York, Lavrov also questioned assumptions that Tehran was hiding anything and accused Western governments of withholding knowledge of a second Iranian uranium-enrichment plant.

"As far as I understand there's no clarity regarding the legal aspects of this situation," Lavrov said. "I don't want to go into legalistic analysis -- it has to be provided by IAEA -- but don't forget that Iran did notify the agency about its intentions, about its plans to construct a new facility, and we are convinced that whatever is being constructed under the Iranian nuclear program must be brought under the monitoring of IAEA."

Lavrov's statements appeared aimed at easing pressure on Moscow to take a tougher line against Iran when the UN Security Council's veto-wielding members meet next week to discuss steps to persuade Iran to comply with UN resolutions on its nuclear activities.

The U.S., French, and U.K. leaders had already condemned what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a "level of deception by the Iranian government."

Obama Anger

In a weekly radio and Internet address issued later, U.S. President Barack Obama called it "a serious challenge to the global nonproliferation regime and continues a disturbing pattern of Iranian evasion." He added that the world was "more united than ever before" on the Iranian issue.

Obama said that in meetings and public statements, he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "agreed that Iran must pursue a new course or face consequences."

The U.S. and Russia are both members of the so-called P-5 Plus One -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States) plus Germany -- which has a meeting scheduled for October 1 in Geneva to discuss the nuclear issue with Iranian officials.

Obama said the recent discovery meant "international negotiations with Iran scheduled for October 1 now take on added urgency."

Operational 'Soon'

Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 21 that it was building a second enrichment plant but that no nuclear material had yet been introduced there.

Speaking to reporters on September 25 in New York, where he attended this week's UN General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad denied that the existence of the plant was a "secret" and said Tehran was not obliged to tell the U.S. administration about all its uranium-enrichment facilities.

Following revelations about the new plant, Moscow issued a statement calling the construction of a second facility a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and urged Iran to quickly demonstrate that the facility is solely for peaceful purposes.

Western governments accuse Tehran of secretly seeking a nuclear bomb capability, a charge that Iranian officials repeatedly deny.

An aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Mohammadi-Golpayegani, was quoted on September 26 by semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that "this new plant, God willing, will soon become operational and will make the enemies blind."

Moscow Wary

Speaking to RFE/RL in New York, Lavrov expressed disappointment that Western partners appeared to have kept intelligence about the existence of a second enrichment facility from Moscow.

"Some of our Western partners said that they had known about this plant for quite some time," Lavrov said. "If that is the case, A) we want this information to be shared with us; [and] B) we really would prefer that this information had been shared with us earlier, when our partners with whom we work on the Iranian nuclear issue laid their hands on this information."

He cautioned that "we need first of all facts before we jump to discuss sanctions or anything else."

Obama and Medvedev on September 23 had appeared to be narrowing their differences over the possibility of further sanctions against Iran over nuclear issues.

Some have suggested that a recent U.S. decision to abandon a Bush-era plan for a European missile-defense shield was part of an understanding between Moscow and Washington whereby Russia would ease its resistance to tougher treatment of a defiant Tehran. Both sides have rejected talk of any such quid pro quo.

'No Legal Clarity'

Lavrov said he had spoken with Muhammad el-Baradei, the director-general of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Lavrov said that so far the IAEA had no evidence suggesting that the nuclear-fuel-production program in Iran was being shifted to military purposes. Meanwhile, he claimed, pressure exerted on Iran through three previous rounds of UN sanctions is working.

"We want to have all the facts presented to us by professionals, and we want Iranians to engage in serious negotiations when we meet on October 1," Lavrov said. "And this is the common position of the [P-5 Plus One] group, which issued a couple of days ago a joint statement to this effect in New York."

Lavrov said that only through a consensus within the UN Security Council could sanctions against Iran be effective.

He said unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union are merely impeding negotiations with Tehran.

Israeli Alarm

Reuters quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as telling Israel Radio that the revelations over a new Iranian nuclear facility has "done away with" disagreement over Iran's nuclear intentions. He went on to call for an "unequivocal" international response.

"I spoke this weekend with experts from the East and West," Lieberman said. "No one has any doubt, according to the technical data that was published, it's a military core."

Israeli officials have issued repeated warnings over Iran's nuclear activities and refuse to rule out possible military action to preempt a threat.

Iran's previously acknowledged uranium-enrichment plant is at Natanz.

with additional RFE/RL and agency reporting
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