(RFE/RL) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed to keep up pressure on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.
The issue dominated talks on September 23 between the two leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Western countries believe Iran may be using its nuclear energy program to conceal a secret nuclear weapons program. Tehran denies the accusation.
Medvedev said after his talks with Obama that "sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable." The remark is seen to represent a policy shift by Moscow, which has been reluctant to step up pressure on Iran in the past. Moscow is building a nuclear power plant in Iran set to come online later this year.
The two presidents say they are leaving open the possibility of further international sanctions against Iran if Tehran does not fully disclose details about its nuclear development and freeze uranium enrichment that could be diverted to nuclear weapons.
Following their talks, Obama told Medvedev that both Russia and the United States believe Iran should be allowed to develop peaceful nuclear energy sources, but not nuclear weapons.
"I believe we also share the view that this should be resolved diplomatically, and I am on record as being committed to negotiating with Iran in a serious fashion to resolve this issue," Obama said.'Right Direction'
Medvedev said Moscow would be open to further sanctions if Tehran does not move in what he called the "right direction."
"Our task is to create such a system of incentives that would allow Iran to resolve its peaceful nuclear energy program but at the same time prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons," Medvedev said.
Russia will steadily follow the path of verifiable and irreversible reductions in nuclear weapons as an essential element of the 'restart' in our relations with the United States.
U.S. officials deny the Kremlin's apparent reversal on sanctions against Iran was a trade-off for Obama's decision last week to suspend U.S. plans to base a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow strongly opposed the plan.
Russia, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has the ability to veto further UN sanctions against Iran. The other permanent Security Council members are the United States, China, Britain, and France.
Foreign ministers from all five countries, together with Germany, also met September 23 in New York ahead of talks with Iranian officials on October 1.
Obama said Iran would be offered a clear choice during the meeting to live up to its international commitments by abandoning any attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
"I think [Russia and the United States] also both agree that if Iran does not respond to serious negotiations and resolve this issue in a way that assures the international community that it is meeting its commitments and is not developing nuclear weapons," Obama said, "then we will have to take additional actions, and that sanctions, serious additional sanctions, remain a possibility."New Treaty
During their talks, Medvedev and Obama also discussed the broader issue of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Medvedev said he was optimistic Russia and the United States would sign a new treaty to reduce their own nuclear arsenals by the end of the year.
"Russia will steadily follow the path of verifiable and irreversible reductions in nuclear weapons as an essential element of the 'restart' in our relations with the United States," Medvedev said.
"President Obama and I signed a relevant document in Moscow last June. A mandate for further negotiations was agreed upon to elaborate a legally binding treaty. This treaty should replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires this December," he said.
Obama will chair a special summit
of the UN Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament on September 24. The leaders of the other 14 Security Council members -- both permanent and rotating members -- are expected to participate.
Diplomats say council members are expected to unanimously adopt a U.S.-drafted resolution declaring the "need to pursue further efforts in the sphere of nuclear disarmament" and urging all countries that haven't signed the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to do so.
Medvedev and Obama on September 23 also discussed Moscow's plan for a new European security arrangement that would supersede NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation. Medvedev repeated Moscow's call for the agreement during his address to the UN General Assembly earlier in the day.
"Above all, we have to turn away from old approaches," Medvedev said. "We keep hoping that the Cold War is behind us, but the world hasn’t become safer."
Medvedev last raised the issue earlier this week during a visit to Switzerland. European diplomats have expressed willingness to discuss the plan. But Western countries say the security institutions of NATO and the European Union don't need to be replaced.