Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Russia cautioned the U.S. on the eve of a meeting of world powers over Iran’s nuclear program not to undermine negotiations by threatening the Persian Gulf country with more sanctions.
“Unilateral sanctions are serving as spoilers and undermine efforts for a joint solution,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Istanbul today. “They are counterproductive.
Diplomats from the U.S. and Iran will try to overcome mutual distrust in the Turkish city tomorrow at the second meeting since last month to discuss Iran’s nuclear research. The U.S. “may be proposing more unilateral sanctions,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in a televised interview in Washington with ABC.
The so-called P5+1 group, composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K and U.S., is represented at the talks by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The P5+1 will press Iran to resolve international concerns over its nuclear work while the Iranian government will try to broaden the meeting to include regional security issues, say analysts and diplomats connected with the talks.
“This has become a contest of wills,” Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council, a London-based policy-advisory group, said in an e-mailed answer to questions. “Much of the Iranian challenge results from responses to what it sees as the strategically hostile environment created by the United States and her allies.”
Iran, already under four sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions, has come under increasing pressure as it refuses to suspend its atomic work. Tehran has accused Israeli and U.S. agents of killing a nuclear scientist in a Nov. 29 bomb attack. A report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security showed that Iran’s nuclear program was targeted and may have come under cyber attack intended to disable uranium enrichment machines.
“An enemy who kills our scientists has no qualms about infecting the Internet,” Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine in an interview published Jan. 18. “We are suspicious of the West.”
Iran test-fired a surface-to-air missile near its Arak heavy water production plant yesterday, saying it needs to assess its readiness in protecting the nation’s nuclear sites.
At tomorrow’s talks, “the most important point is not what’s on the agenda but for the two parties to feel that there can be a climate in which maneuvering is possible,” said Kayhan Barzegar, director for international affairs at the Center for Middle-East Strategic Studies in Tehran. Iran last met with the P5+1 group in Geneva Dec. 6-7.
The U.S. and Europe accuse Iran of lying about its nuclear work, which they say is a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran, under International Atomic Energy Agency investigation since 2003, says it only wants to generate nuclear power.
Iran has the right to enrich uranium as soon as IAEA inspectors can certify that the country isn’t developing nuclear weapons, Lavrov said, responding to an Iranian demand entering the talks that its right to develop nuclear technology be acknowledged. Iranian pursuit of atomic technology is “quite legitimate and necessary,” he said.
China’s President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama talked about Iran yesterday in Washington and issued a joint statement that called on Iran to engage in a “constructive dialogue process” and to implement UN resolutions requiring the country to suspend its nuclear work.
“To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, we agreed that Iran must uphold its international obligations, and that the U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran must be fully enforced,” Obama said at a press conference.
China expects the Istanbul round of talks to “bring forth some achievements through negotiations,” China’s Xinhua news agency cited Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Hailong as saying today in Istanbul. “I believe that we can achieve some progress if all relevant parties show some kind of flexibility in the talks.”
Technical glitches and sanctions that have delayed Iran’s nuclear program give the U.S. and its partners more time to exert pressure without resorting to military action, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. Israel’s outgoing head of intelligence, Meir Dagan, said this month that Iran wouldn’t be able to produce a nuclear weapon before 2015, three or four years later than earlier Israeli estimates.
Uranium Off Limits
While Iran is willing to talk about nuclear disarmament and U.S. atomic weapons stationed in Europe, the country’s uranium-enrichment program will be off limits at the Istanbul round of talks, Jalili said in Der Spiegel.
“Everything takes place under the supervision of the UN weapons inspectors from the IAEA,” Jalili said. “Uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes is not up for discussion.”
Russia, France and the U.S. should revive talks in Vienna aimed at supplying a Tehran nuclear reactor with fuel, Lavrov said. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who today signed a strategic agreement with Russia to boost bilateral relations, said his country is ready to “reactivate” its role in mediating a fuel swap.
Turkey, along with Brazil, tried to broker a compromise deal last year that would have supplied Iran with enriched uranium for a reactor that makes medical isotopes.
The talks are expected to end Jan. 22. Turkey will host a dinner tonight in Istanbul for diplomats from the P5+1 group, Hurriyet newspaper reported.