Iran Nuclear NewsRussia, China stress diplomacy in Iran nuclear row

Russia, China stress diplomacy in Iran nuclear row

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Reuters: Russia and China said on Thursday diplomacy was the best way to tackle the dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a day before a U.N. watchdog delivers its verdict on whether Tehran has met Security Council demands. By Edmund Blair

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Russia and China said on Thursday diplomacy was the best way to tackle the dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a day before a U.N. watchdog delivers its verdict on whether Tehran has met Security Council demands.

Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is widely expected to tell the council and the agency’s board on Friday that Iran has not stopped enriching uranium or fully answered IAEA queries as the U.N. body asked a month ago.

“A diplomatic option suggests different ways to react. We will discuss this issue with our European partners, the United States and the international community,” President Vladimir Putin said, stressing that any response should be coordinated.

“We oppose the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction including by Iran. But we believe Iran should have an opportunity to develop peaceful nuclear energy projects,” he said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Siberia.

Unlike several of his ministers, Putin did not explicitly rule out possible sanctions until there was proof of Western suspicions that Tehran was secretly seeking atomic weapons.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, but it has also vowed to pursue large-scale enrichment of uranium, which can be used in bombs as well as power stations.

China gave no sign it was ready to line up behind Western powers seeking sanctions against the Islamic Republic, but analysts said it was unlikely to block their way.

Again advocating negotiations, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing called for calm, restraint and patience.

“A diplomatic solution is the correct choice and is in the interests of all parties,” spokesman Qin Gang said. “China urges all parties to avoid measures that could worsen the situation.”

The United States, backed by Britain and France, favours limited sanctions if Iran refuses to halt enrichment very soon. Russia and China, the Security Council’s other two veto-holding permanent members, have hitherto opposed any embargo.

Consequently the Western powers will not push a sanctions measure next week, but may propose a resolution to make U.N. demands set out in a March 29 council statement legally binding.

If Iran does not comply within a reasonable timeframe, the United States and its allies will try to introduce punitive measures in a subsequent resolution, a council diplomat said.

SECURITY COUNCIL ROLE

China wants the IAEA board to consider ElBaradei’s report before the Security Council takes up the issue, but several analysts said Beijing would be reluctant to scuttle a council resolution on Iran and risk a rift with Washington and Brussels.

Russia also believes the IAEA board is the best forum to debate Iran, but Merkel disagreed with Putin on this.

“It is a discussion in the IAEA, but also in the Security Council,” she said in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Merkel said diplomats from the council’s five permanent members plus Germany would discuss Iran in early May. Foreign ministers of those countries were also likely to meet, she said.

NATO foreign ministers meeting on Thursday were expected to assess the scope for tougher action on Iran, diplomats said.

“It is an opportunity to confer,” said a senior alliance diplomat of the two-day meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia where U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet counterparts from European powers and Russia.

While the United States is keeping military options open in case diplomacy fails, NATO commanders stress they have not been charged at any level to study plans for the use of force.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Iran would strike at U.S. interests worldwide if it is attacked.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday, ruled out any role for his ex-Soviet state in any potential military attack on neighbouring Iran.

Iran has received a first shipment of missiles from North Korea that can reach Europe, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin, was quoted as saying.

Known in the West as BM-25s, the Russian-designed missiles have a range of around 2,500 km (1,500 miles) — a longer reach than Iranian-made Shihab-4 missiles which can hit Israel.

Israel is widely believed to have nuclear warheads. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls for the Jewish state’s destruction have heightened its concerns about Iran.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing and Louis Charbonneau in Tomsk)

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