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Russia Urges Iran to Halt Uranium Enrichment


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Iran must heed the international call to stop work linked to controversial uranium enrichment, if it hopes to find a way out of the tense standoff over its nuclear program.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of envoys from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations in Moscow Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the international community is demanding what he calls "urgent and concrete" steps from Tehran to ease concerns about its nuclear program.

The call came one day after top diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany discussed the issue, but failed to agree on sanctions against Iran.

The United States and Britain have been pushing hard for tougher measures, including possible sanctions, if Iran fails to comply with the April 28 United Nations Security Council deadline to halt its enrichment program.

But Lavrov persisted with a more cautious line, saying Russia is convinced everyone must wait until the director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Mohammad ElBaradei, produces a much-anticipated report on Iran's nuclear problem later this month.

The report next goes to the IAEA Board of Directors for discussion. Lavrov says then, and only then, should Iran be referred to the U,N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

Lavrov downplayed the significance of yet another round of talks in Moscow ending without agreement, saying no concrete outcome had been expected. At least five rounds of similar talks have been held in the Russian capital since the start of this year.

Some analysts now suggest that Russia risks becoming tainted over the Iran issue, if it does not start putting a little more distance between itself and the Islamic republic.

Russia, which has long argued that sanctions are the wrong course, has considerable economic interests in the oil-rich republic and is helping Iran to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

Meanwhile, Russia's influential business newspaper, Kommersant, suggests in an editorial Wednesday that Moscow's continued unwillingness to give immediate, direct support on this, a critical foreign policy issue for Washington, risks deteriorating already frayed Russo-American relations.

The article goes on to suggest that the issue could also add an element of unpredictability to the G8 Summit Russia is scheduled to host this July in Saint Petersburg.

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