Iran's top nuclear negotiator says he will reconsider ties to IAEA if sanctions imposed

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, in Moscow Friday for talks on his country's disputed nuclear program, warned that Tehran would reconsider its ties with the United Nations' nuclear watchdog if the U.N. Security Council passes European-drafted sanctions.

"We will reconsider relations with the IAEA if the United Nations pass the ... resolution ignoring Russia's amendments," Ali Larijani said, according to the Interfax, ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies.

Tehran has warned repeatedly that it will respond to U.N. sanctions by blocking the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections of its nuclear facilities, and Larijani's comments appeared to reaffirm that threat.

The Iranian negotiator repeated once again that the standoff should be solved through talks with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany. The six nations offered Iran a package of economic incentives and political rewards in June if it agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment effort. But Tehran has said it will continue enrichment, a process that is central to both civilian power generation and the production of nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the start of his talks with Larijani that their discussion would focus on ways to resume negotiations. "We stand for solving the problem through talks, let's see how we can advance in that," Lavrov said.

Coming out of the meeting, Larijani said, "We discussed bilateral ties, international and regional cooperation and exchanged views on Iran's nuclear program." Without elaborating, he added, "We agreed to expand our cooperation."

The European draft resolution would order all countries to ban the supply of material and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs and impose a travel ban and asset freeze on companies, individuals and organizations involved in those programs. It would exempt the nuclear power plant being built by Russia at the Iranian port of Bushehr, but not the nuclear fuel needed for the reactor.

Moscow has rejected the European draft, saying the sanctions are too broad and too strong. It urged the removal of all references to Bushehr, among other revisions.

At the same time, Russian nuclear officials have hinted they could postpone Bushehr's scheduled launch next year a signal that Moscow was applying its own pressure on Tehran to comply with international demands. But analysts said Moscow would draw the line at scrapping the project, which is more than a decade old and worth some US$1 billion (Ђ800 million).

Tehran, which insists its program is only for the production of energy, has balked at a Russian offer to move Iran's enrichment work to Russian soil to assuage international concerns that Iran could misuse the enrichment process to develop weapons. In an apparent bid to soothe Russia's irritation, Larijani said Friday that the proposal remains on the table.

He also noted Iran's close relationship with Moscow, saying "Russia is our neighbor and friend. We are natural allies."

Meeting later with Russian Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov, Larijani praised Russia as "one of the centers that brings balance to the world order," Russian news agencies reported a remark apparently aimed at the United States, which advocates harsher measures against Iran.

He said that "talks between our countries this whole year and over the past few years have been very fruitful," the reports said.

"We are looking into the future relying on the development of relations in political, economic and military fields," Larijani told Lavrov earlier.

Russia has provided spare parts for Soviet-built weapons in the Iranian inventory and has also reached a deal to supply air defense missiles to Iran, shrugging off U.S. concerns, reports AP.

Both Russia and China, which have major commercial ties with Iran, have continued to publicly push for dialogue instead of U.N. punishment, despite the collapse last month of a European Union attempt to entice Iran into talks.