Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Iran yesterday to halt all uranium enrichment activities, saying the international community is demanding "urgent and constructive steps" from Tehran to ease concerns about its nuclear program, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
"Iran must heed the call to stop work linked to uranium enrichment," the agency quoted Lavrov as saying a day after a meeting in Moscow of diplomats from the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.
"All participants in the meeting agreed that urgent and constructive steps are demanded of Iran in response to the decision of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]," which has called on Tehran to stop enrichment activity, Lavrov said.
But Lavrov said no decision had been adopted at the meeting, echoing a top US diplomat who said the envoys who met for nearly three hours on Tuesday evening recognized the "need for a stiff response to Iran's flagrant violations of its international responsibilities" but failed to reach agreement on how to proceed.
After the meeting hosted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that the possibility of sanctions had been discussed but indicated that further talks would be needed.
Discussions were expected yesterday during a meeting of envoys from the G8 nations.
"Iran's actions last week have deepened concern in the international community and all of us agreed that the actions last week were fundamentally negative and a step backward," Burns said. "So now the task for us is to agree on a way forward."
Burns gave no specifics as to the type or timing of sanctions and he refused to say whether Russia had softened its opposition to sanctions against Iran.
On Tuesday US President George W. Bush refused to rule out nuclear strikes if diplomacy failed to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions.
Bush said he would discuss Iran's nuclear activities with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), who has been cool toward sanctions, during his US visit this week.
Asked if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush said: "All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so."
The US, which already enforces its own sweeping sanctions on Iran, wants the UN Security Council to be ready for strong diplomatic action, including measures such as a freeze on assets and visa curbs on Iranian officials.
The IAEA is due to report at the end of the month on whether Iran is complying with UN demands that it halt uranium enrichment.
Speculation about a US attack has mounted since a report in New Yorker magazine said this month the Bush administration was considering the option of using tactical nuclear weapons to knock out Iran's underground nuclear sites.
China, which sent an envoy to Iran to try to defuse the standoff, repeated a call for a negotiated solution.
"We hope all sides will maintain restraint and flexibility," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (
US Senator Joe Lieberman, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, informed the Jerusalem Post that the US probably could not destroy Iran's nuclear program but could attempt to set it back by strikes as a last resort.
IAEA inspectors are due in Iran tomorrow to visit nuclear sites, including one at Natanz where Iran says it has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent, the level used in nuclear power plants.
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