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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian first deputy PM hopes air strike on Iran will be averted

RIA Novosti

19/04/2007 13:03 MOSCOW, April 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's first deputy prime minister said Thursday he hopes the United States will not launch air strikes against Iran and called for unity within the UN Security Council.

The Islamic Republic is under UN sanctions over its failure to halt uranium enrichment, and Washington has refused to rule out a military operation against it as a way of forcing its compliance with the demands of the global community, which fears Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons.

"So far the situation remains within the diplomatic framework and Russia has twice voted. Unity of the UN Security Council exists. The last two resolutions were passed by the Security Council unanimously. And the main thing is to preserve the unity of the Security Council," Sergei Ivanov said in an interview with The Financial Times.

He warned that otherwise Iran could suffer the fate of Iraq, which has been brought to the brink of civil war by a U.S. campaign against the Saddam Hussein regime and subsequent attempts to foster democracy in the country.

The United States has reportedly been building up its Air Force and Navy contingent near oil-rich Iran, while Russian military officials have even suggested that the U.S. could launch tactical nuclear strikes on Iran's underground nuclear sites.

The latest United Nations resolution on the defiant regime highlights a focus on diplomacy, but accepts the possibility of a military solution to the crisis.

The UN Security Council resolution adopted March 24 toughens sanctions imposed in December and freezes foreign accounts of 13 companies and 15 individuals involved in uranium enrichment and missile development projects, imposes visa restrictions and bans arms exports from Iran.

It also threatens new sanctions if Iran does not comply with the resolution within 60 days, and urges the Islamic Republic to return to negotiations.

But Iran has consistently claimed it is pursuing peaceful nuclear power generation, which it is entitled to under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which the country is a signatory.

In defiance of the sanctions, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced earlier in the month the county has started nuclear fuel production on an industrial scale, automatically placing the country on the list of nuclear powers.

However, some experts, including Russian ones, have expressed doubts, saying the claim was unsubstantiated.

Ivanov also said the ideal way of resolving the Iranian issue was to allow Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy.

"We think that enrichment on an industrial scale is not necessary. There is fuel on the international market. Please, buy it, use it under international control and export it back." He said.

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, has offered to provide the Islamic Republic with nuclear fuel for electricity generation and to accept spent fuel back for reprocessing. Tehran has neither accepted nor rejected the proposal.

When asked whether Russia had told Iran that it could stop working on the Bushehr reactor if Iran did not suspend nuclear enrichment, Ivanov said Bushehr had no relation whatsoever to the Iranian nuclear dossier.

"Because what does the Bushehr project foresee? Construction of the plant, and by the end of the year construction will be completed - if Iran pays us," he added.

The commissioning schedule on the $1 billion project Russia is building under a 1995 contract in southern Iran was put in jeopardy over delays in payments from Iran, until Moscow said the financial problem had been partly resolved following continuous talks.

Ivanov said that after completing the construction, permission from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA), would be needed to deliver fuel to the plant.

"After we get such a permission, we will deliver on condition that the IAEA monitors continuously the whole cycle of the fuel's existence and the fuel is shipped back to Russia. So not a single gram of industrial uranium, which is not military grade, of course, will get into Iranian hands. So there's nothing to worry about here," Ivanov siad.

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