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US Official: Russia Pressing Iran on Nuclear Issue

A U.S. State Department official says Russia has begun to exert pressure on Iran to comply with United Nations resolutions to end its nuclear program. He made his comments before a Senate panel Wednesday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told the Senate Banking Committee that Russia has begun applying pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Burns cited a dispute between Moscow and Tehran over a nuclear power plant being built by the Russians at Bushehr.

Russia has said it would delay work on the plant until Iran resumes payments for the project.

Undersecretary Burns says Russia's action amounts to political pressure on Iran as the United Nations Security Council considers tougher sanctions on Tehran.

"It has been very interesting to see the Russian government over the last week decide that they are not going to provide fuel for the Bushehr power plant," he said. "They have delayed the implementation schedule in 2007. The very clear message, as we translate it, from the Russian government to the Iranian government, is that it is not going to be business as usual."

Russian officials have denied any link between the construction of the nuclear plant at Bushehr and a draft resolution before the Security Council that strengthens sanctions on Iran. That measure would ban Iranian arms exports and freeze the assets of more than two dozen individuals and organizations involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs.

Burns also said the European Union and Japan are becoming more inclined to support economic sanctions to pressure Iran, but that China is still reluctant to embrace such a strategy.

"I do not think the Chinese are there yet, unfortunately," he added. "We differ with the Chinese. We think the Chinese have too much of a business as usual attitude with Iran, too much trade going on."

The chairman of the Banking Committee, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, said he supports sanctions against Iran, but said the Bush administration should be doing more to engage Iran diplomatically.

"Sanctions alone in my view are not sufficient," he noted. "They must be used as effective leverage undertaken as part of a coherent coordinated, comprehensive, diplomatic and political strategy such that it is more beneficial for Iran to forswear its nuclear weapons ambitions and alter behavior that is undermining regional peace and stability."

Burns said the United States is committed to pursuing a diplomatic solution to the challenges posed by Iran, but he said it will require patience and persistence.

Also testifying with Burns was Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, who said the United States has been pressing foreign companies not to do business with Iran, including making investments in the energy industry.

The United States and its allies believe Iran's uranium enrichment program is aimed at building nuclear weapons. Tehran argues it is for peaceful purposes.