Moscow supports Tehran in nuclear stand-off

Russia threw Iran a diplomatic lifeline yesterday by publicly defending it against the West’s demands that it be held accountable for its nuclear programme.

After two days of heated debate among the 35 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the Kremlin said that it was prepared to block moves by the European Union to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for possible punitive action.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the EU move as “counter-productive”, insisting that the issue could be resolved through diplomatic means.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said: “While Iran is co-operating with the IAEA, while it is not enriching uranium and observing a moratorium, while IAEA inspectors are working in the country, it would be counter-productive to report this question to the UN Security Council. It will lead to an unnecessary politicising of the situation.”

Moscow’s position matters. It has not only the support of a dozen IAEA members, but a Security Council veto to block any attempt to impose economic sanctions on Iran. It appeared only to harden resolve in the EU, which failed to clinch a deal with Iran in two years of tortuous diplomacy.

On Tuesday the EU circulated a draft resolution condemning Iran’s “failures and breaches”. Peter Jenkins, the British representative to the IAEA, toughened the language against the country yesterday in a statement which said that the EU was “deeply concerned by the fact that Iran gives every sign of being intent on developing a fissile material production capability well before the international community obtains what it needs: confidence that Iran’s programme is exclusively peaceful.”

The US called on the IAEA to do its “duty” and report Iran to the Security Council. The issue may come to a head today when the IAEA could be split if compelled to vote on the EU resolution.

Some members want a vote suspended. The US, which has long suspected Iran of secretly developing a nuclear weapon, is pressing for a vote which it is confident will be passed with a convincing majority, Times Online reports.

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