ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Russia's foreign minister said Friday he is "very alarmed" over Iran's failure to prove its nuclear program is peaceful, suggesting Moscow may be closer to acceding to Western demands for new UN sanctions against Teheran.
Sergey Lavrov's deputy said later, however, that Russia was still against crippling sanctions — returning to the traditional rhetoric Moscow has used for its "partner" and business ally.
"We are very alarmed, and we cannot accept that Iran is refusing to cooperate" with the global nuclear oversight body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Lavrov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
The IAEA on Thursday issued a report saying Iran may currently be working on making a nuclear warhead, suggesting for the first time that the Islamic Republic had either resumed such work or never stopped in 2003 as a US intelligence assessment published three years ago said.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday denied that Teheran was seeking nuclear weapons, saying Islam forbids weapons of mass destruction.RELATED ARTICLE:Khamenei: Iran not seeking bomb
But Lavrov said he did not understand the need for Iran to conduct its nuclear program in secret, withholding information from the IAEA.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the IAEA report "underscores that Iran continues to flout its international obligations" and indicates that Teheran is pursuing "a nuclear weapons program with the purpose of evasion."
The United States has circulated elements for a possible new UN sanctions resolution to other veto-wielding UN Security Council members — Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany. The six countries have been trying, to no avail, to get Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations on its nuclear program.
Rice told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that the report also demonstrates "the urgency" that Iran must now engage the international community on its nuclear program or "face increased international pressure."
The French Foreign Ministry went further in a statement Friday, saying the IAEA report "shows how urgent it is to take resolute action to respond to Iran's lack of cooperation."
"We now have no other choice, given this report, than to seek, together with our partners, the adoption of new measures by the UN Security Council over the next few weeks," the ministry said in a statement.
The United States and its Western allies have been pushing for a fourth round of UN sanctions. But with China, which relies on Iran for much of its energy, skeptical of any new sanctions, they have to tread carefully to maintain six power unity on how to deal with Iran.
Moscow also in the past has been loathe to support debilitating sanctions against a valued trade partner in Iran, but wants to be seen as a reliable guarantor of nonproliferation.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during a recent visit to Moscow, called for "crippling sanctions" in the form of a blockade on energy exports.
Lavrov hinted that Russia may continue with its traditional line, calling Iran a "close neighbor" and "partner" — and his deputy underlined that sentiment later Friday.
"We find the term 'paralyzing sanctions' completely unacceptable. Sanctions should follow the aim of strengthening the regime of nuclear nonproliferation," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
Ryabkov also said Russia would fulfill its contract with Iran to deliver S-300 missile systems — which Israel and its allies fear could bolster Teheran against attempts to stop its nuclear ambitions.
The three previous sanctions resolutions against Iran focused on its nuclear and missile programs and the people and financing behind them.
New sanctions would likely try to expand and toughen these measures.
One well-informed diplomat said last month that the Revolutionary Guard would be a key target of a fourth round of sanctions, but others in Iran's power structure could also be included. Sanctions against companies and organizations controlled by the Revolutionary Guard that have links to weapons proliferation may also be considered, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because all talks are going on in private.
The last sanctions resolution adopted in March 2008 authorized inspection of cargo shipments by two Iranian companies that are suspected of containing banned items. It also introduced financial monitoring of two banks with suspected links to proliferation activities and called on all countries "to exercise vigilance" in entering into new trade commitments with Iran, including granting export credits, guarantees or insurance.
UN diplomats said these measures could be strengthened or expanded. The
list of individuals and companies with links to weapons programs is
also likely to be expanded in a new resolution.
Rice refused to give a timeline for a new sanctions resolution or
discuss details of diplomatic exchanges but other UN diplomats,
speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private,
said China has not yet responded to the US proposal.