MOSCOW – The Russian foreign minister on Thursday signaled the country's opposition to a draft U.N. Security Council resolution proposed by European nations that would impose sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Sergey Lavrov said the resolution, which imposes limited sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to cease uranium enrichment, is a departure from existing agreements between major powers.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent members of the council that have strong commercial ties with Tehran, consistently have been reluctant to support sanctions. A key concern for Moscow is the future of its US$1 billion contract to build Iran's first nuclear power station.
"Our goal is to eliminate the risks of sensitive technologies getting into the hands of Iran until the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) clarifies issues of interest to it, while maintaining all possible channels of communication with Iran," Lavrov said in comments shown on state television.
"And it seems to me that, in this context, the draft resolution clearly does not correspond to those tasks agreed on by the six sides," he added, speaking on the sidelines of an international Arctic conference in Russia's far north.
Russia's project to build a nuclear power station in the southwestern Iranian city of Bushehr was one of several obstacles holding up agreement on the U.N. resolution, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said, according to Interfax.
"Lengthy negotiations will be needed to find a mutually acceptable solution," he was quoted as saying.
The United States, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and China have offered Iran incentives to halt uranium enrichment, but Tehran has rejected them. Enrichment can produce material for nuclear power reactors or weapons.
European nations this week proposed sanctions -- banning the sale of missile and atomic technology to Iran and ending most U.N. help for its nuclear programs -- after weeks of exploratory talks with a EU negotiator had ended without progress.
The sanctions impose certain limits on Russia's Bushehr project, although they do not force an end to it.
Russia has steadfastly rejected U.S. demands to halt work on Bushehr, and last month agreed to supply fuel for the plant in March, allowing the facility to go online in September.
The United States has been pushing for even tougher sanctions, and Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said Wednesday there would be "American changes to the proposed European text." He refused to elaborate.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said consultations would continue at U.N. headquarters to try and win the Russians over.
"We have taken note of the Russian declarations. ... We will now pursue discussions in New York," he said.
Iranian state radio voiced confidence that Russia's opposition to the draft resolution could thwart the EU's moves over the Iranian nuclear program.
"If Russia opposes the resolution, then Europe's position in further negotiations with Iran would be worse than it is now," the radio said in a commentary, adding that "sanctions would not be effective, satisfactory or conclusive."
In a sign of Russia's determination to safeguard the lucrative Bushehr contract, the head of the Russian state company that is building the power plant said Thursday it would be completed on time.
"All work on the nuclear power station is being carried out in line with the existing timetable," Atomstroiexport's chief Sergei Shmatko was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass.