Russia offers US to join talks between Iran and EU on Iranian nuclear program

Iran might harbor plans to build nuclear weapons, but the international community should use incentives rather than threats to persuade Tehran to drop them, Russian analysts said Tuesday.

Washington's push to refer the Iranian nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions would only deepen the crisis, said Alexei Arbatov, the head of the Center for Security Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Arbatov, a former liberal lawmaker, said the United States could resolve the impasse by joining talks between Iran and the European Union, represented by Britain, Germany and France. The talks collapsed in August after Iran resumed uranium reprocessing work.

"Handing the Iranian nuclear issue over to the Security Council will only split it and encourage Iran to raise the stakes," Arbatov said during a round-table meeting that attracted some of Russia's top experts on Iran.

Vladimir Yevseyev, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment, said that even if the United Nations imposes economic sanctions against Iran, they would be hard to implement and unlikely to work.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week dismissed speculation that Moscow might join talks between Iran and the EU mediators. Arbatov argued that Moscow's mediation would make no sense, because no agreement could be reached without U.S. involvement in the talks.

He said that Washington could persuade Tehran to drop its uranium enrichment program by restoring diplomatic relations and offering security guarantees to Iran.

In Vienna, diplomats said Iran has signaled it may grant access to sites linked to possible work on nuclear weapons and other demands from the International Atomic Energy Agency to avoid being referred to the security council.

The diplomats said a high-ranking IAEA delegation was in Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue with Iranian officials.

Washington says Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists its program is intended to produce electrical power.

Russia has said it shares the goal of preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear arms capability but differs on the tactics.

Moscow has been at the center of the dispute because it is building a US$800 million (Ђ600 million) nuclear reactor in the Iranian city of Bushehr that is scheduled for launch by the end of 2006.


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