Russian, French foreign ministers to discuss Iran crisis

Tension over Iran's nuclear program was expected to dominate talks Thursday between the foreign ministers of France and Russia, with diplomatic discussions intensifying over whether to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. The meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his French counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, comes ahead of crucial discussions on the standoff early next month at the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As Douste-Blazy arrived on Wednesday, Israel's national security adviser pressed Russia on its intentions and Iran's ambassador to Moscow urged the Kremlin to resist what he called pressure from other countries. International pressure is mounting on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, and the United States and key European nations have been pushing for a referral of the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

The council could impose sanctions against Iran, which defied the international community last week by removing U.N. seals from its main uranium enrichment facility. Iran's president accused the West on Wednesday of acting like the "lord of the world" in denying his country peaceful use of the atom.

Lavrov said earlier this month that he wouldn't rule out referral to the council, where Russia is a permanent veto-wielding member, but he indicated Tuesday that Moscow was not yet ready to support the move and also sharply criticized the idea of sanctions.

On Wednesday, European Union diplomat Javier Solana said Russia earlier this week had proposed a delay in confronting Iran at the Security Council, suggesting that the council first hold less formal discussions instead of consideration based on referral by the IAEA. Russian Foreign Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Wednesday that European nations are seeking the "greatest possible consensus" on dealing with Iran's nuclear program. He called an emergency IAEA board meeting, expected Feb. 2, a "very important moment."

Russia has close ties with Tehran and is building the country's first nuclear power reactor, but has been moving closer to the Western position on Iran and is reluctant to let the issue cause a major rift in its relations with the United States and Europe. Despite growing frustration with Tehran's defiance of international concerns that it may be pursuing nuclear weapons, Moscow appears to be seeking to slow the pace of action against Iran and avert a Security Council vote on sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Tehran might still agree to Moscow's offer to move its uranium enrichment program to Russia, a step backed by the United States and EU as a way to resolve the deadlock, and Iranian officials have said they are still considering the proposal, reports the AP. N.U.