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(photo credit: AP [file])
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov exchanged sharp words as the Bush administration tried to cement support for new UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programs.
Rice and Lavrov disagreed on the matter Wednesday at a German-hosted luncheon of foreign ministers from the G-8 group of industrialized nations, according to Lavrov and US and European diplomats present. Another participant, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed, called the exchange "very emotional."
The lunch came as Rice and her top aides moved to capitalize on international frustration with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for declaring on Tuesday that the nuclear issue is "closed" and vowed to defy any UN Security Council move for more sanctions.
Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the UN General Assembly that Iran has decided to pursue the monitoring of its nuclear program "through its appropriate legal path," the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the UN's nuclear watchdog.
Lavrov told The Associated Press that he had strong words with Rice about whether the time was right for new sanctions when the IAEA has struck an agreement with Iran about its past activities.
Lavrov said the United States wanted to ignore the IAEA - as it has in the past.
"We want to rely on IAEA expertise," Lavrov said after the meeting of G-8 members: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department's No. 3 diplomat, said there had been a "lengthy discussion" on Iran at the lunch.
"There is a very clear tactical disagreement," he said. "But we are hopeful that tactical agreement can be overcome."
Burns said Washington supported the IAEA agreement with Iran but stressed that it focused only on past Iranian activity.
The US accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, something Tehran adamantly denies. Iran is already subject to two UN sanctions resolutions as well as a growing number of financial penalties from individual nations, but China and Russia have been reluctant to agree to a new UN resolution.
Earlier, Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, had rebuked Ahmadinejad for his comments to the General Assembly.
"I am sorry to tell President Ahmadinejad that the case is not closed," he said ahead of a meeting with senior diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany to craft elements of a new sanctions resolution.
"We're going to keep going," Burns told reporters. "If Mr. Ahmadinejad thinks somehow that he has been given a pass, he is mistaken about that."
Burns' talks over dinner with diplomats from Russia, China, Britain, France - the other permanent Security Council members - and Germany will set the stage for a second meeting on Thursday and then one between Rice and the group's other foreign ministers on Friday when the resolution is expected to be further defined.
However, he said it is unlikely that the text of a new resolution will be agreed to this week
The participant who did not want to be identified said Russia did not totally rule out a new resolution.
At Friday's meeting, the participant said, efforts will be made to lower the temperature and focus on practical measures.
As Burns spoke, Rice was assuring Iran's wary neighbors in the Persian Gulf of US backing to improve their defenses against a "hegemonistic Iran" through proposed multibillion-dollar arms sales, a senior State Department official told reporters.
In a meeting with the foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - along with Egypt and Jordan, Rice heard deep fears about Iranian attempts to dominate the region, the official said.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic exchange, said all eight countries told Rice that "they are not going to surrender to Iranian hegemony."
The Bush administration is in discussions with the Saudis and its other allies in the Gulf to prepare arms sales packages worth about $20 billion despite concern from some in Congress that they could destabilize the region and hurt Israeli security interests.
The senior State Department official said that details of the proposed sales were not discussed on Wednesday but that Rice told the Gulf ministers they could count on solid US support.
Among ideas being considered for the new sanctions resolution against Iran are widening existing financial sanctions on Iranian entities and possible diplomatic measures, officials said.
The Bush administration is considering wide-ranging sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds force, which is accused of supporting insurgents in Iraq, by naming it an international terrorist group.
Meanwhile, the president of Columbia University, where Ahmadinejad spoke at a forum earlier this week, said Iranian officials were warned that their president would be subjected to sharp challenges during his appearance.
The harshness of the introduction at the event Monday prompted some complaints in Iran and elsewhere that Ahmadinejad had been blind-sided by his host.
"Any sense that the president was not forewarned about this, or caught off guard, are completely untrue," Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger said.
Among other things, Bollinger told Ahmadinejad that he exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," called his past denials of the Holocaust "brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated" and said he doubted he had the "intellectual courage" to answer questions openly.
Also, Ahmadinejad's comment at the Columbia event that there are no gays in Iran was cut out of official Farsi transcripts of his appearance released in Iran. Homosexuality remains highly sensitive in Iran. Gay sex is prohibited and in some circumstances, people convicted of it can be sentenced to death.