Lavrov assures Iran to help ease tension over nuclear program

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov encouraged Iran on Monday to adopt a position that would help ease tensions over its nuclear program. "We hope that our Iranian friends will choose a position that helps to ease tension and renew negotiations," the Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying at the start of a meeting with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari. Lavrov stressed the common interests Russia and Iran share.

"We have coinciding interests in supporting and strengthening regional stability, whether it's the Middle East situation, Iraq, Afghanistan, and including the problem of narcotics and terrorism," Lavrov was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency. Safari responded that Iran was satisfied with Russia's cooperation and consultation on regional issues.

"We intend to develop such cooperation in the political and economic spheres," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. Russia has close ties with Tehran and is building Iran'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.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said last week that Russia had proposed a delay in confronting Iran at the U.N. Security Council, suggesting that the council first hold less formal discussions instead of consideration based on referral by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. The head of Russia's atomic energy agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, has said Iran is ready for detailed discussions on a proposal to conduct Iran's uranium enrichment in Russia. That idea is backed by the U.S. and Europeans as a way out of the deadlock.

The proposal, under which uranium would be enriched in Russia for use in Iranian reactors, is aimed at overcoming concerns that Iran could enrich its own uranium to higher levels for use in nuclear weapons rather than for power production. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has described the offer as a good basis for negotiations, and Lavrov said last week that further talks on the proposal were expected in mid-February.

But international pressure on Iran is rising. The IAEA's board of governors will meet on Feb. 2 to discuss whether to refer Iran to the Security Council, a move that could result in the imposition of sanctions, after Iran broke U.N. seals at a uranium enrichment plant and said it was resuming nuclear research after a two-year freeze. The troika of nations that had been negotiating with Iran on behalf of the European Union have declared talks at a dead end, reports the AP. N.U.