US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that the US would hold back from pressuring for new nuclear sanctions against Iran as she sought support from Russia.
Clinton praised Moscow for its “extremely cooperative” behavior in the standoff over Iran’s program, which Western nations fear is an attempt to build a nuclear bomb.
Her first trip to Russia as chief US diplomat was aimed at winning support for the US stance on Iran and helping to mend US-Russian ties scarred by disputes before US President Barack Obama took power.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that sanctions against Tehran may be inevitable if it defies world powers over its nuclear drive. Clinton agreed but said: “We are not at that point yet ... it is not a conclusion that we have reached.”
Russia has been hostile to tough sanctions against Iran and Medvedev’s comments last month had been seen in some quarters as a subtle change in policy aimed at satisfying the West.
However, speaking after talks with Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that for the moment it would be wrong to talk about a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.
“Threats of new sanctions and pressure against Iran under current circumstances are counterproductive,” Lavrov said.
Clinton said world powers were “actively pursuing the engagement track” with Iran but that in “in the absence of significant progress ... we will be seeking to rally international opinion behind additional sanctions.”
The top US diplomat denied she had come to Russia to ask Russia for favors.
“We reviewed the situation and where it stood,” she said.
Russia has the most robust relations with Iran of any major world power, has supplied Tehran with military hardware and is building the country’s first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.
However Russia has not fulfilled a contract to deliver S-300 air defense systems to Tehran, hardware which analysts say could impede any Western air strike on Iran.
Moscow’s political and economic connections with Tehran could prove crucial as the nuclear standoff enters a decisive stage.
Clinton said: “Russia has been extremely cooperative in the work that we have done together.”
Russia has expressed willingness to help enrich low-enriched Iranian uranium for a research reactor in Tehran to a higher degree after Iran for the first time agreed to discuss its enrichment operations with the West.
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