US, Russia agree to hold off further Iran sanctions

On her visit to Moscow, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played down differences with Russia over Iran's nuclear programme, saying that the time had not yet come for a new round of sanctions.


AFP - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the United States would hold back from pressuring for new nuclear sanctions against Iran as she sought support from Russia.

Clinton praised Moscow for its "extremely cooperative" behaviour in the standoff over Iran's programme, which western nations fear is an attempt to build a nuclear bomb.

Her first trip to Russia as chief US diplomat was aimed at winning support for the US stance on Iran and helping to mend US-Russian ties scarred by disputes before President Barack Obama took power.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that sanctions against Tehran may be inevitable if it defies world powers over its nuclear drive. Clinton agreed but said: "We are not at that point yet... it is not a conclusion that we have reached."

Russia has been hostile to tough sanctions against Iran and Medvedev's comments last month had been seen in some quarters as a subtle change in policy aimed at satisfying the West.

But, speaking after talks with Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that for the moment it would be wrong to talk about a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

"Threats of new sanctions and pressure against Iran under current circumstances are counterproductive," Lavrov said.

Clinton said world powers were "actively pursuing the engagement track" with Iran but that in "in the absence of significant progress... we will be seeking to rally inernational opinion behind additional sanctions."

The top US diplomat denied she had come to Russia to ask Russia for favours: "We reviewed the situation and where it stood," she said.

Russia has the most robust relations with Iran of any major world power, has supplied Tehran with military hardware and is building the country's first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.

However Russia has not fulfilled a contract to deliver S-300 air defence systems to Tehran, hardware which analysts say could impede any Western air strike on Iran.

Moscow's political and economic connections with Tehran could prove crucial as the nuclear standoff enters a decisive stage.

Clinton said: "Russia has been extremely cooperative in the work that we have done together."

Russia has expressed willingness to help enrich low-enriched Iranian uranium for a research reactor in Tehran to a higher degree after Iran for the first time agreed to discuss its enrichment operations with the West.

A US official had earlier said Clinton would ask Lavrov and Medvedev "what specific forms of pressure Russia would be prepared to join us and our other allies in if Iran fails to live up to its obligations."

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany have been leading an international campaign to persuade Iran to halt its disputed uranium enrichment programme.

The West fears the programme masks a drive for the atomic bomb -- a charge denied by Tehran, which says it is for peaceful nuclear energy.

The United States, France and Britain raised new concerns after Iran disclosed in September that it had secretly built a second uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.

However, Iran has tried to make a show of greater cooperation since taking part in Geneva negotiations with the world powers this month.

The Obama administration has moved to "reset" relations with Russia, whose ties with the United States have been strained by US plans for missile defence, NATO expansion and the war last year with Georgia.

Lavrov said the two sides had also made "substantial movement forward" on negotiations to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

START, which strictly limits US and Russian arsenals and is seen as a cornerstone of Cold War-era strategic arms control, expires on December 5. Clinton said negotiators from the two sides are on schedule to complete an agreement by then.

Clinton, who last week rapped Russia's failure to bring to justice the killers of journalists and rights activists, is due Tuesday to meet members of Russian civil society to discuss human rights.

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