(photo credit: Associated Press)
Russia's foreign minister called on Iran Wednesday to halt all uranium enrichment, saying the international community is demanding "urgent and constructive steps" from Teheran 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 Sergey 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," which has called on Teheran to stop enrichment activity, Lavrov said.
But Lavrov said no decision had been adopted at the meeting, echoing a senior US diplomat who said the envoys who met for nearly three hours 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.
Teheran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But Russia has been frustrated by Iran's refusal to give up uranium enrichment, which the United States and some of its allies suspect is meant to produce weapons.
After the meeting hosted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told The Associated Press that the possibility of sanctions had been discussed but indicated that further talks would be needed.
Discussions were expected Wednesday during a meeting of envoys from the Group of Eight major industrialized 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 told the AP. "So now the task for us is to agree on a way forward."
He referred to the announcement last week by Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the country "joined the club of nuclear countries" by successfully enriching uranium for the first time.
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. He reiterated that the United States expected action in the Security Council after an April 28 deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment.
Lavrov said in a televised comment Wednesday that Moscow wants an expected report later this month on Iran's nuclear program by the chief of the UN nuclear agency, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, to be reviewed by the agency's board before it goes to the Security Council.
Russia, which is not eager for a discussion of sanctions in the Security Council, has repeatedly stressed that the IAEA is the best forum for discussions on the Iranian program.
The United States and Britain say that if Iran does not comply with the Security Council's deadline, they will seek a resolution that would make the demand compulsory.
Ahmadinejad threw a new wrinkle into the debate last week by claiming his country is testing an advanced P-2 centrifuge, which could be used to more speedily create fuel for power plants or atomic weapons. But some analysts familiar with the country's technology said he could be deliberately exaggerating Iran's capabilities.
US President George W. Bush has said that Washington is working hard to resolve the issue diplomatically, but military force - including the possibility of a nuclear strike against Iranian nuclear facilities - has not been ruled out.
Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have opposed punitive measures. Bush said he intends to call on Chinese President Hu Jintao to step up pressure on Iran when the two leaders meet Thursday.