Russia is prepared to support further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program following the Islamic Republic's failure to accept a UN deal that would ease Western fears, according to the Russian Kommersant daily.
The newspaper, cited by AFP, quoted sources in the administration of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying that Moscow was "100 percent ready" to back new sanctions.
Medvedev is scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama in Singapore on Sunday, where they will both be attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. According to Kommersant, the two men will not only talk about Iran, but may also discuss the timing of new sanctions.
The Russian leader has already expressed a willingness to consider further sanctions. In an interview last week with Der Spiegel that was translated by Reuters, Medvedev said, "We wouldn't want this to end with international sanctions, because sanctions, as a rule, take us in a very complex and dangerous direction. But if there is no movement forward, nobody is ruling out such a scenario."
A UN-brokered proposal in October would have Teheran send 1,100 kg. - around 70% of its stockpile - of low-enriched uranium to Russia in one batch by the end of the year for further enrichment. After further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Teheran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material without several month of reprocessing first.
Iran has not given a final response to the UN proposal, and has come up instead with its own request to buy nuclear fuel from abroad. Iranian officials and lawmakers have hardened their stance toward the UN plan in recent comments, adding to the pressure on the government to altogether reject the draft.
In addition, Teheran has indicated it may agree to send only "part" of its stockpile in several shipments abroad and has threatened to - should the talks with world powers fail to help Iran obtain the fuel from abroad - enrich uranium to the higher level needed to power the research reactor domestically.
The New York Times reported on Monday that in a bid to salvage the proposal, Washington had told Iran's leaders in back-channel messages that it would allow the Islamic Republic to send its stockpile of enriched uranium to any of several nations, including Turkey, for temporary safekeeping. Turkey has expressed a willingness to accept the Iranian stockpile.
However, quoting administration officials and diplomats involved in the exchanges, the newspaper said the offer had fallen on deaf ears, and that instead, "the Iranians are pushing for an old counterproposal: that international arms inspectors take custody of much of Iran's fuel, but keep it on Kish, a Persian Gulf resort island that is part of Iran."
A senior Obama administration official said that proposal had been dismissed for fear of Iran expelling the inspectors at any given moment.
Meanwhile, Western diplomats told The Associated Press on Thursday that Iran's recently revealed uranium enrichment hall in Qom is a highly fortified underground space that appears too small to house a civilian nuclear program, but large enough to serve for military activities.
One of the diplomats - a senior official from a European nation - said that the enrichment hall is too small to house the tens of thousands of centrifuges needed for peaceful industrial nuclear enrichment, but is the right size to contain the few thousand advanced machines that could generate the amount of weapons-grade uranium needed to make nuclear warheads.