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Russian Foreign Minister Regrets Iran's Rejection Of Nuke Deal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov takes questions during his press conference.
(RFE/RL) -- Russia's top diplomat today said Moscow regrets that Iran has rejected a draft deal to send abroad most of its enriched uranium.

Speaking in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged more talks with Tehran on the UN-brokered compromise designed to ease fears that the material could be used to make nuclear weapons.

Lavrov added that the UN could discuss imposing sanctions, a stance favored by the United States. But he remained noncommittal about whether Russia would support them.

"We are convinced that it is necessary to make additional efforts, both on this concrete issue and, more broadly, on the question of resuming talks on all aspects of the Iranian nuclear program," he said.

The United States is expected to introduce a resolution to the UN Security Council proposing sanctions against Tehran in the coming weeks. Lavrov stressed, however, that "Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy" should not be questioned.

"Our goal is absolutely transparent,” Lavrov said. “We want there to be no doubts among the international community about the exclusively peaceful character of this program and, at the same time, to make sure that no one casts any doubt on Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

Poland ‘Fortified Against Russia’

Lavrov made his comments at a wide-ranging press conference in which he discussed Poland's decision to deploy a U.S. Patriot missile battalion near the Russian border, Moscow's relations with Ukraine, and negotiations with the United States on a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Warsaw announced on January 20 that the Patriot missile base, which will have up to eight launch pads and will be manned by 100 U.S. troops, will be deployed in April.

Saying that Poland appears to be "bracing itself against Russia," Lavrov added that he doesn't understand why Poland decided to station the Patriot missile base in a town 60 kilometers from Poland's border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

"There must be reasons why these batteries will be deployed where they will be deployed,” Lavrov said. “By the way, I don't have complete information about this, but if the reports are true, then we have to ask why must they do something that creates the impression that Poland is being fortified against Russia. This is what I don't understand. As for the rest, I repeat, of course we expect to be given an explanation, and then we will analyze the situation."

In an unusually muted reaction, Lavrov called the move an issue of "bilateral military cooperation between two members of the North Atlantic alliance," adding that it involves Russia "because we are building our relations both with Poland and with NATO on the basis of trust and of taking one another's interests into account."

Commenting on Russia's relations with Ukraine once a new president is elected to replace pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, Lavrov said he expects bilateral ties to be "built on an understanding of the advantages that both peoples, both countries, can take from close cooperation and the development of a partnership in all aspects on the strategic level."

In the second round of Ukraine's election on February 7, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will face opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych. Both candidates have expressed a desire for better relations with Moscow, a prospect Lavrov says he welcomes.

"Now that we know who will be in the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine, we have reason to think -- on the basis of the statements both candidates are making -- that Ukraine's attitude to the development of cooperation with Russia is changing,” Lavrov said. “This attitude will be much less ideologically motivated. I hope that ideology will disappear from our mutually beneficial ties altogether."

Lavrov also said official negotiations with the United States on a new START treaty would resume in early February. Moscow and Washington say they are close to agreement on a successor to the 1991 START treaty, which expired in December, but U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have yet to clinch a deal.

U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen arrived in Moscow this week for talks on the START treaty.