Published March 11, 2006
TEHRAN, Iran – Russia is proposing a new round of high-level talks on resolving international concerns about Iran's nuclear program, in what diplomats characterized Saturday as an effort to head off a showdown in the U.N. Security Council.
A Western diplomat, who insisted on anonymity in detailing the confidential discussions, said Russia wanted a meeting with the United States, China, France and Britain — the other four permanent members of the Security Council.
The Russians also want the participation of Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and of Germany, which along with France and Britain broke off talks with Iran last year after Tehran resumed preliminary work on uranium enrichment.
The Kremlin is "pushing for a meeting in Vienna March 20," the diplomat said, adding that Moscow's emphasis on a Vienna venue is an attempt to take the focus off Security Council deliberations in New York on how to cajole Iran into reimposing a freeze on enrichment and fully cooperating with an IAEA probe of its suspect nuclear program.
ElBaradei incurred U.S. displeasure recently by suggesting Iran be allowed to run small-scale uranium enrichment if it agrees to give up a full-scale program. Russia initially backed the suggestion but backed away after Washington issued strong opposition.
A diplomat close to the Vienna-based IAEA said there had been "some talk" about a Vienna meeting among the five permanent council members plus Germany but no invitation had been extended to ElBaradei by Saturday. No date or other details had been discussed, the diplomat said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov floated the idea of multilateral talks on Iran earlier in the week but did not suggest a date or venue. On Friday, John Bolton, America's ambassador to the Security Council, also said continuing consultations made "a lot of sense."
But the Western diplomat suggested Washington did not see any need for talks outside the Security Council, emphasizing that route was approved in January by Lavrov and the foreign ministers of the other permanent members.
The five permanent council members considered proposals Friday on how to get Iran to answer questions about its nuclear program, abandon uranium enrichment and stop construction on a reactor.
But Russia indicated it was uncomfortable with the council taking any significant action. Russia has strong economic and political ties to Iran and is thought to fear that Iran could spurn negotiations entirely at a time when the West fears the Islamic state is determined to develop nuclear weapons.
Britain, France and the United States are seeking a tough statement aimed at pressuring Iran, while Russia and China want the Security Council to remain in the background.
A new meeting among the permanent council members was planned Monday morning to look at a revised draft, the Western diplomat said.
Another diplomat who had seen the draft told The Associated Press it would call on Iran to halt construction of its heavy-water reactor and stop all uranium enrichment — a process that can produce both reactor fuel and the fissile material needed to build atomic bombs.
According to the diplomat, the draft did not include any threats against Iran.
"It's more about noting with concern and expressing serious concern, calling for transparency, reminding all states, not just Iran, of their obligations," the diplomat said. "There's no threat of anything and there's certainly no threat of measures or next steps."
A lack of any threats is a clear effort to get Russia and China on board. If that does not happen, Bolton and other senior American officials have suggested Washington might look elsewhere to punish Iran — possibly by rallying its allies to impose targeted sanctions.