Russian and Iranian negotiators are holding talks in Moscow on a Russian compromise that is seen as a last chance to spare Iran from being called before the U.N. Security Council for possible punitive action for its controversial nuclear program.
The talks appeared to get off to a rocky start as local news agencies quoted the head of the Iranian delegation as saying the Russian compromise proposal is not linked to demands for Iran to resume a moratorium on uranium enrichment.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quotes the Iranian negotiator as saying he did not foresee any pre-conditions. But a different message was relayed from Iran's foreign minister over the weekend leading up to the discussions.
Manouchehr Mottaki told Russian television that Iran is open to any and all proposals that help it deal with what he called, "this difficult situation."
The Iranian foreign minister says, as he sees it, there are two issues at hand: one is Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; and the other is easing the concerns of the world community.
Under the compromise, Russia would carry out sensitive enrichment for Iran in order to ensure that no uranium is diverted to weapons development, as the United States and Europe fear.
Western concerns grew considerably after Iran restarted small-scale enrichment.
Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow's compromise proposal was "conditional" on Iran abandoning all enrichment activity. Russian officials have also said they will press hard for Iran to restore its moratorium in order to give this week's talks a fighting chance.
Lavrov earlier said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television, that there has never been a case in history, in Russia's view, where sanctions have achieved the desired goal. For this reason, he says, Russia continues to believe that the only way forward is through continued negotiation with Iran.
"Many West European countries do not want any sanctions," he said. "Russia does not want any sanctions - China - and quite a lot of others ... not because we want to be complacent vis-a-vis the threat to nuclear non-proliferation regime. On the contrary, we do believe that this regime (Non-proliferation Treaty) must be strengthened and must not be violated. But sanctions would not achieve this goal. What would achieve this goal is negotiations and reliance on the professionalism of the experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."
On March 6, the IAEA is due to hold a meeting that could result in Iran being ordered before the U.N. Security Council for possible punitive action, including sanctions.
That is why this week's talks in Moscow are being so closely watched for any signs that the stand-off could be resolved.
Aside from hoping to boost its role on the world stage through mediating the negotiations, Russia has considerable economic interests in Iran. Later this week, the head of Russia's atomic energy agency (Rosatom), Sergei Kiriyenko, is scheduled to travel to Tehran to inspect the Bushehr nuclear construction site Russia is helping Iran to build.