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Russia Plans Push for Iran Nuclear Deal

Technicians escort Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a February tour of a medical research reactor facility in Tehran. Russia has supported a multilateral proposal calling on Iran to halt production of higher enriched uranium ostensibly intended for use at the medical site (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency). Technicians escort Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a February tour of a medical research reactor facility in Tehran. Russia has supported a multilateral proposal calling on Iran to halt production of higher enriched uranium ostensibly intended for use at the medical site (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency).

Pursuing atomic concessions from Iran and staving off the possibility of war with the country are key Russian goals for multilateral discussions scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported. However, disagreements within the Middle Eastern nation and differences at a previous diplomatic session have prompted some outsiders to suggest Moscow faces long odds in attempting to save the diplomatic process from collapse (see GSN, June 14).

Diplomats from Tehran are scheduled meet on Monday and Tuesday in the Russian capital with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States in an effort to resolve suspicions that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward establishment of a weapons capability. Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful.

Tehran earlier this week indicated it would confer with the six powers on their proposal for Iran to end manufacturing of 20-percent enriched uranium, relinquish its stored material and close its underground Qum uranium enrichment complex. The United States and its allies fear that higher-level uranium enrichment -- ostensibly intended to fuel a medical reactor  -- could enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

In exchange for meeting the powers' demands, Iran would receive medical reactor fuel and access to nonmilitary air transit equipment, and the European Union would curb shipment insurer restrictions set to complicate Tehran's sales of petroleum to Asian countries. An EU ban on Iranian petroleum would still take effect within weeks, as would new U.S. financial penalties targeting state purchasers of oil from the Persian Gulf regional power.

Iran initially discounted the draft bargain at a gathering last month in Baghdad; its decision to address the offer followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's determination about one week ago to carry out a rapid Wednesday trip to the nation's capital in an effort to rescue the atomic dialogue, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant. Lavrov's stop involved an exchange with Saeed Jalili, Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, according to earlier reporting.

"The Iranians are coming under a lot of pressure from Russia not to screw this up on their watch," a knowledgeable Western government insider said (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, June 15).

U.S. government personnel said they anticipated further intensive cooperation with Russia to address Iran, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

“The Russians have been extremely helpful on Iran,” one high-level Obama administration insider stated. “We’ve been able to disagree with Russia in the past while continuing to work closely in areas where we have common interests” (Warrick/Englund, Washington Post, June 13).

Others, though, have referred to political pressures from the U.S. presidential race as well as a lack of progress in discussions last week between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The meeting was aimed at setting a deal for the U.N. nuclear watchdog to move ahead with its probe of Iran's atomic operations (see GSN, June 8).

"Of course there is a certain time limit," one high-level European envoy told AFP. "If there is a collective assessment that it is not going anywhere, we will have to say no to talks for talks' sake" (Agence France-Presse I).

Lavrov addressed the Iranian nuclear standoff in talks on Friday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, ITAR-Tass reported. The top Russian diplomat said he and Zebari "share a common position that the negotiations in this format should be continued."

"We have already worked out many ideas and initiatives, which can be put into practice on the principles of a gradual and reciprocal approach," Lavrov said. "Another working document, which the [six powers] passed to Iran in Baghdad and which we are planning to consider in a fruitful and productive way at the Moscow meeting, was developed on this basis" (ITAR-Tass I, June 15).

Next week's multilateral meeting was the subject of a discussion on Thursday between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi, Iran's top envoy to Russia, Interfax reported (Interfax I, June 15). Ryabkov also took up the scheduled gathering on Wednesday in a separate exchange with Chinese Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Ma Zhaoxu, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry (Interfax II, June 14).

"With taking into account the deep preparation of numerous contacts at different levels after the Baghdad meeting, there are reasons to believe that the next step will be taken in Moscow," ITAR-Tass quoted Ryabkov as saying on Friday. "The negotiations' continuation is very important for Russia" (ITAR-Tass I, June 15).

Jalili said the Moscow meeting should address "a number of proposals we put forward at the Baghdad talks," Russia Today reported on Friday.

"We identified five main areas. Four of them are related to nuclear energy, while the fifth one concerns other areas. Meanwhile, the other side came up with a proposal, too," the top Iranian atomic envoy said.

"To advance the talks we need consensus on two major issues. Firstly, we are strongly against weapons of mass destruction. Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran has the capacities to cooperate in disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation, so these capacities should be used by the international community. Secondly, we expect that Iran’s right to nuclear technologies, including uranium enrichment, will be recognized and respected. This is something that is clearly defined by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty" (Russia Today, June 15).

The treaty's language is largely to blame for the ongoing standoff, one Western analyst said in a Thursday New York Times report.

“It allows nations to get to the red line of weaponization,” said Yousaf Butt, an expert with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “Iran is raising eyebrows. But what it’s doing is a concern -- not illegal.”

Iran might be preparing to refine uranium beyond the 20 percent level, the Institute for Science and International Security said in an assessment earlier this month. Tehran might attempt justify such a move by indicating it plans to produce molybdenum 99 for medical purposes, according to the Times; Belgium, France and the Netherlands all rely on weapon-usable uranium to generate the health material (see GSN, June 14; (William Broad, New York Times, June 14).

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Wednesday said Tehran "is ready for further cooperation in order to allay the international community’s concerns,” Iran's Press TV reported (Press TV, June 14).

"If there is a serious will among the [six] negotiators to take practical steps, the Moscow talks serve as a good potential in bringing about noticeable achievements for either side," Iranian Ambassador to Italy Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Thursday in comments reported by Iran's Fars News Agency (Fars News Agency, June 15).

Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres recently voiced doubt over his country's ability to launch an independent armed campaign against Iran, the Atlantic reported on Thursday.

"One of the things the United States does well is building coalitions," Peres told the magazine. "What the U.S. knows is that if you don't have a coalition with you, you will have a coalition against you. I don't want to see China and Russia on the side of Iran more strongly than they are."

A 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak atomic site and a 2007 strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear facility "were single shots," he said. "But you must think of this in a comprehensive way. You have to ask what is the next step."

"Suppose someone will destroy the installations in Iran. Iran is not Syria or Iraq, it is a different story, a larger land. This is a situation in which we would need the United States. Only the United States could manage the Iran situation. You would need someone to handle the verification, because otherwise you postpone for two years or three years or who knows? You would have to think about coalitions. You would you have to focus on second steps and third steps, who will be with you, who will be against you, what will the Iranian people do. There are so many questions. You can't just think about the thinkable," Peres said (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, June 14).

Meanwhile, legislation to publicly insure Iranian petroleum shipments cleared the lower branch of the Japanese legislature on Friday, Reuters reported. Tokyo has curbed purchases of petroleum from Iran but is seeking to avoid potential harmful economic effects resulting from additional cuts, according to the news agency.

Energy sector insiders said South Korea would end all petroleum purchases from Iran due to the EU insurance restrictions (Osamu Tsukimori, Reuters, June 14). The firms SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank said on Friday announced a short-term pause in such dealings pending a possible EU waiver on the insurance penalties, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse II/EUbusiness, June 15).

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