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Iran Nuclear Talks Continue In Moscow

By Claire Bigg

Senior diplomats from the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia -- plus Germany are due to meet in Moscow this evening (April 18) in the latest attempt to break the Iran nuclear impasse.

MOSCOW, April 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The five permanent UN Security Council members along with Germany will resume the discussion on possible sanctions against Iran.

The talks, which are being held at the deputy foreign minister level, are likely to be difficult. The countries taking part in today's meeting, despite sharing fears over Iran's nuclear program, have different approaches to solving the issue.

The United States has said in a statement that it will retain its tough stance on Iran at today's talks and push for "significant action" against Tehran. The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.

Sanctions Divide

Britain, France, and Germany appear to back the prospect of sanctions, but do not support possible military action should sanctions fail to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear-enrichment activities.

Russia and China have consistently opposed the U.S.-led push for sanctions against Iran.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin today said his country would continue to advocate a diplomatic solution to the crisis: "We are convinced that neither sanctions nor the use of force can resolve the concerns of the international community regarding Iran's nuclear program."

On April 17, Russia's outgoing UN ambassador Andrei Denisov called on Tehran to observe a moratorium on uranium enrichment until April 28. On that day the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is slated to report to the UN Security Council on Iran's compliance with international nuclear regulations.

Aleksandr Golts, a leading Russian defense expert, says Russia's strong economic ties with Iran influence its stance on the issue. But more importantly, Golts says, Russia sees the Iran nuclear debate as a powerful political lever over Western countries: "Russia regards its relations with Iran as a lever with which it can bargain with the West and sell dearly its position on Iran in exchange for other things -- for example promises to limit any form of criticism of the internal policy of [President Vladimir] Putin's regime, or promises of advantages upon WTO entry."

Middle East

Russia also considers Iran a key geopolitical partner in the Middle East.

Aleksandr Pikayev heads the Disarmament and Conflict Resolution Department at the Russian Academy of Sciences' World Economy and International Relations Institute.

He says Iran and Russia share interests in the South Caucasus, in Central Asia, and in Afghanistan. Iran, he says, also played an important part in curbing criticism from Muslim countries of Moscow's war against Chechen separatists.

Some observers suggest that Moscow's support of Iran may also signal its desire to assert itself as a mediator between OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) -- which includes Iran -- and the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

Regarding China, Pikayev says Beijing's interests in the Iran nuclear issue are much more pragmatic: "China has much bigger economic interests [in Iran] than Russia. China intends to invest tens of billion dollars in Iran's oil industry, and possibly also in its gas industry. China assumes that Iran could become a major oil supplier for its booming economy. China is not ready to lose Iran as a highly attractive oil supplier."

Observers do not expect any major breakthrough from today's talks. Key decisions, they say, are unlikely to be taken before the IAEA's report is released.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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