16 October 2005
Iran's Nuclear Ambitions Focus of Rice's Meetings in Moscow
Rice, Russian leaders also discuss Central Asia, "post-Gaza" Middle East
By Michael O'Toole
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Iran’s nuclear ambitions were at the forefront of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s agenda during talks in Moscow October 15 with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Rice said she came away from the talks believing that, despite Russia’s abstention in the September 24 vote by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that found Iran in violation of its nonproliferation obligations, Moscow was "very clear that they believed that this could still be resolved within the IAEA framework and that there was time for and a prospect for negotiations with the Iranians in order to do that."
"This is a diplomatic process," Rice said in remarks to reporters en route to London from Moscow. She added that, despite some divergence of views, "I am confident that we and the Russians do not want to see the Iranians with the capability to build a nuclear weapon."
"[T]he Russians and the Europeans and the IAEA are concerned … that Iran has lost the confidence of the international community because of past behavior …." she said. (See related article.)
NUCLEAR FUEL DISPOSAL
Rice elaborated further on this point in an interview with CNN after her arrival in London, when she was asked if there was any discussion with the Russians about the disposal of fuel generated by the Bushehr civil nuclear plant that the Russians are under contract to build for the Iranians.
The secretary responded by describing the "fuel take-back" arrangement in which material that otherwise might be used for weapons would instead be taken back to Russia, which she said would "seriously reduce the proliferation risk."
Russia continues to discuss with Iran how to pursue civil nuclear power in a way that would assure the international community such technology would not be used for weapons, Rice told reporters. While asserting that the United States prefers that Iran abandon its nuclear ambitions altogether, she acknowledged that she expected the Russians would "continue to pursue those ideas."
Currently the Iranians are not enriching and reprocessing uranium for potential weapons use, "which is extremely important," Rice told CNN. She added that the Iranians were now under "extreme pressure," and despite their threats to "walk away from everything" and "start enriching again ... none of that has happened."
The Iranians "seem to have reconsidered their options and have now declared that they want to go on a course of negotiation rather than on a course of confrontation." Rice said. "We are prepared to let that course proceed."
At the same time, however, the secretary told reporters "we have to prepare for the possibility that that course might not lead to fruitful negotiations," at which point "we have the option of referral to the [United Nations] Security Council."
The secretary looked ahead to the next meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on November 24, which she called "very crucial" because "we will know by that time whether or not the Iranians are prepared to enter into negotiations that might lead to an acceptable outcome."
During her meeting with Putin, Rice said she also discussed her visits to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. The secretary said she recalled that the United States and Russia agreed in 2001 that fighting the War on Terror meant supporting operations in Afghanistan from Central Asia, and "that was the point that I'd made to the Central Asian leaders about our military and coalition military activities there." (See Central-Asia-Caucasus.)
In response to a reporter’s question, Rice responded that Putin "supports what we're doing in Afghanistan and fighting the war on terrorism ... he therefore supports our access in Central Asia."
The leaders also discussed "the need to integrate Afghanistan economically into the region," and the importance of sending to Uzbekistan "a clear message that the international community expects behavior different than that behavior in which Uzbekistan is currently engaged," according to the secretary. Uzbekistan has rejected calls from the international community for an independent investigation into the May 13 shootings in Andijan. (See related article.)
LEBANON, SYRIA, ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS
With respect to Lebanon, Rice said she and the Russian leaders discussed the upcoming United Nations report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. When asked about the implications of the prosecutor’s focus on officials in Syria, she responded that "The Russians have said they're going to let the chips fall where they may ... I don't know that he has requested anything specific from Russia, but they have been backing the investigation." (See related article.)
"Lavrov and I [also] had some discussions also of the Palestinian-Israeli situation," the secretary said, adding that both believed that "the post-Gaza period has been one in which the Israelis and the Palestinians are continuing to work together, and what we need to do is to help Abu Mazen create an atmosphere in which calm can be maintained, in which the Palestinians can build [their] democratic institutions." (See The Middle East: A Vision for the Future.)
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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