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A senior Russian lawmaker said Tuesday that Moscow has practically no leverage over Tehran - an unusually frank statement dampening hopes that Russian-Iranian talks set for next week could help ease tensions over Iran's nuclear program.
Konstantin Kosachev, the Kremlin-connected head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, told Ekho Moskvy radio that all previous attempts by Moscow to influence Tehran had failed.
"We have practically no levers to put pressure on Iran," Kosachev said when asked whether the Russian-Iranian talks set for next week could achieve a breakthrough.
A high-ranking Iranian delegation is set to visit Moscow on Feb. 16 to discuss Russia's offer to enrich uranium for Iran. The proposal has been backed by the United States and the European Union as a way to provide additional oversight of Iran's use of atomic fuel and ease international suspicions that Tehran aims to use its nuclear program to produce weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors voted Saturday to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions. Tehran responded by saying it would start full-scale uranium enrichment and bar surprise inspections of its facilities, but wouldn't rule out talks on the Russian offer.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said Tuesday that Moscow was counting on the Feb. 16 talks as a way "to remove all the worries" about Iran's nuclear program. Kislyak said that "not only the nuclear dossier, but also the whole complex of relations with Iran will be discussed at these consultations in Moscow," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Iran is said to want China to be involved in the enrichment project as a hedge against the use of the venture by Russia to put pressure on Tehran. Following talks in Moscow late last month, Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Tehran was open to participation by other nations but that the prospect of Chinese involvement was not specifically discussed.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that Russia would not oppose participation by other nations in the enrichment venture. "The creation of a joint venture is open to many countries," he said, according to ITAR-Tass.
President Vladimir Putin has been calling for the creation of an international system under which nations with enrichment technology would carry out the process for others that want nuclear power. He said Russia could lead the way in creating enrichment centers.