U.S. pushes Russia to stop missile sales to Iran as nuclear dispute continues

The United States leaned on Russia to halt missile sales to Iran amid international efforts to defuse a standoff with Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.

A top U.S. diplomat said Friday the United States wants other countries that worry about Iran's nuclear intentions to use their individual leverage, be it cutoffs of trade ties or, in Russia's case, cancellation of a planned sale of Tor-M1 air defense missile systems.

"We think it's time for countries to use their leverage individually, and we think it's time for countries to band together collectively to make the same effort," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters at the State Department.

Burns' appeal for individual nations to do what they can to cut off Iran sets up an alternate way to apply pressure to the clerical regime outside the current review of the Iranian nuclear program by the United Nations Security Council.

The United States pushed for more than two years to bring Iran's case before the policy-making U.N. body for possible economic and political sanctions. U.S. officials have said that is the best way to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear know-how that could be used for a bomb.

The council is now divided, however, over whether to apply sanctions to the rich oil exporter.

Burns left Moscow after two days of meetings this week with agreement that something must be done to stop Iran but no public movement toward supporting sanctions from Iran's commercial partners Russia and China.

U.S. officials denied that asking countries to apply their own forms of sanctions individually shows lack of confidence in the Security Council process or undermines it.

"We're dedicating ourselves to the Security Council process, and you'll see the United States be as actively engaged as anybody," Burns said.

"But if the Security Council cannot act over a reasonable period of time, then there will be an opportunity for groups of countries to organize themselves together for the purpose of isolating the Iranians diplomatically and economically," reports AP.

O.Ch.