World powers should offer Iran “real incentives” to allow full monitoring of its nuclear program rather than demanding an immediate end to uranium enrichment, Russia’s top official at talks in Istanbul said.
The first negotiations in 15 months between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. -- plus Germany, represent an “urgent” chance to counter the threat of military action, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.
“We see a very clear tendency toward escalating tensions,” Ryabkov said in a telephone interview during a stopover in Munich en route to Istanbul today after attending a Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting in Washington. “The major way forward” is to broker an accord between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency to allay suspicions it’s seeking nuclear weapons in return for economic incentives and security guarantees, he said.
Overshadowing tomorrow’s round of talks are threats from both Israel and the U.S. to stage military action to stop what they say are Iran’s advancing efforts to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran, which faces a ban on oil exports to the European Union from July 1, insists its atomic activities are in line with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty rights.
A Russian proposal made last year for a “step-by-step” solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute under which the Persian Gulf state would be rewarded gradually with an easing of sanctions for its cooperation with the IAEA is still “on the table,” Ryabkov said.
While Russia is concerned at the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the Iranian leadership has “significantly softened its rhetoric recently” and is more focused on dialogue, the diplomat said.
Iran’s growing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium may be purified into atomic-bomb material in a matter of months, according to Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s former top inspector who made more than 20 trips to Iranian nuclear facilities.
Russia believes the immediate task is to secure Iran’s agreement to a deal with the IAEA that would enable the Vienna-based agency to verify the “exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program,” said Ryabkov.
In return, the six world powers should offer “real incentives so that Iran feels its situation would be improved if this arrangement is reached and concluded.”
Iran, which has faced four sets of UN Security Council sanctions, has been further squeezed by U.S. and EU financial and energy sanctions. The exact nature of the incentives would be a matter for negotiation in Istanbul, and could include international assistance in developing nuclear energy as well as security guarantees and other measures, Ryabkov said.
Iran stands to benefit financially from its first nuclear reactor, the Russian-built 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant, according to the World Nuclear Association. It will free up the equivalent of 11 million barrels of oil or 1.8 billion cubic meters of gas per year for export, the London-based group said in a March report.
“At some point this suspension would be very helpful,” Ryabkov said, referring to demands for a halt to Iranian uranium enrichment, which can be used for both generating electricity and making nuclear warheads.
“But I would also say that the foremost task, the foremost objective of these negotiations that start tomorrow should be rebuilding trust that is almost completely lacking,” he said, urging the two sides to commit to pursue talks within a given timeframe to avoid another lapse in negotiations.
The previous round of talks, also in Istanbul, ended without agreement in January 2011.
The tentative cease-fire in the more than year-old uprising in Syria after pressure by Russia on its Soviet-era ally shows that diplomacy and not military action is the best way to resolve conflicts, including over Iran, Ryabkov said.
“The Russian side has continuously insisted on further diplomatic and political efforts to be applied to both of these situations,” he said.