Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov on Thursday all but ruled out imposing new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, brushing aside growing Western concerns that Iran had made significant progress in recent months in a bid for nuclear weapons.
Lavrov said he believed that a new set of proposals that Iran gave to European nations on Wednesday offered a viable basis for negotiations to end the dispute. He said he did not believe that the U.N. Security Council would approve new sanctions against Iran, which could ban Iran from exporting oil or importing gasoline.
“Based on a brief review of the Iranian papers, my impression is there is something there to use,” Lavrov said at an annual gathering of experts on Russia. “The most important thing is Iran is ready for a comprehensive discussion of the situation, what positive role it can play in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region.”
Lavrov’s comments underscored the challenge facing the Obama administration as it plans its next move in the United States’ struggle to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons.
Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, allowing it to veto any sanctions resolution, and it has close economic and diplomatic ties to Iran. Russia has sold arms to Iran, and is building a nuclear power plant there that it says is for peaceful purposes. The Kremlin has also refrained from criticizing the Iranian government over its crackdown after the disputed presidential election in June.
Iran says its program to enrich uranium is aimed at producing electricity, and it has refused to halt the process, which can have both civilian and military purposes.
On Thursday, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear affairs monitor, said Iran would not negotiate further with the major powers about its nuclear program, Iranian news services reported.
A five-page letter that Iran delivered to the Europeans, and sent to Washington via the Swiss on Wednesday, is titled a “Package of Proposals by the Islamic Republic of Iran for Comprehensive and Constructive Negotiations.” But it is devoid of specifics, and never mentions Iran’s nuclear program.
It hews closely to a proposal issued by Iran last year, advocating talks on topics as varied as energy, the “root causes of global economic and financial crisis,” corruption and fraud. It also advocates discussion of global disarmament, which has been interpreted in Washington as suggesting that Iran wants to link any discussion of the fate of its nuclear program with talks about the arsenals of the United States and Israel, among others. President Barack Obama has sought to take a less adversarial stance toward Iran’s nuclear program than President George W. Bush did. But with seemingly little to show for it, Obama may now try to move more aggressively.
Obtaining the Kremlin’s backing is one of his biggest hurdles in doing so, and when Obama was here in July for a summit meeting, he spoke at length with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia about the Iranian nuclear program.