- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Russia yesterday closed ranks with the United States and its European allies over Iran’s suspect nuclear programs, abandoning a plan to allow Tehran to conduct some uranium-enrichment programs on its own soil.

In the face of adamant U.S. opposition, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not even raise Moscow’s compromise idea in meetings yesterday with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“There is no compromise new Russian proposal,” Mr. Lavrov said after his hastily arranged meeting with Miss Rice.

The United States and leading European Union powers are demanding Iran stop its secret nuclear-weapons programs, and are pushing for the U.N. Security Council to take action against Tehran.

Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran that it must abandon any hopes of obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences,” Mr. Cheney said in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a strongly pro-Israel group.

He also implicitly left open the possibility of military action, saying the United States “is keeping all options on the table,” and repeated the administration’s pledge that Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear bomb.

Russia, which has major commercial interests in Iran, has been seeking a diplomatic solution to the standoff. The Bush administration had supported a Russian plan that would have allowed Iran to proceed with civilian nuclear programs so long as all spent uranium fuel — a key building block for atomic weapons — was returned to Russia.

But the United States strongly rejected new feelers from Moscow for a concession to Iran that would allow the Islamic regime in Tehran in time to conduct small-scale uranium enrichment within its borders.

The administration argued that even a small-scale civilian program could quickly be diverted to military purposes.

Iran says it has the right to civilian nuclear power, but U.S. officials argue that Iran’s consistent efforts to hide the scope of its nuclear efforts from international oversight mean it cannot be allowed even a pilot enrichment program.

Iran “has shown it cannot be trusted,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday. “It has refused to comply with its international obligations.”

But both Mr. Lavrov and Miss Rice left open what the U.N. Security Council might do when it takes up the Iran nuclear controversy. Russia and China, both with vetoes on council votes, have shown little enthusiasm so far for economic or other sanctions against Iran.

“Have you seen a proposal for any sanctions?” Mr. Lavrov responded sharply when questioned after his half-hour meeting with Mr. Bush, dismissing the issue as a “hypothetical question.”

Despite Mr. Cheney’s warnings, Miss Rice and State Department officials were cautious about predicting what actions the Security Council might take.

“There are a variety of diplomatic options at the disposal of the Security Council, and I’m not going to prejudge how this might play out,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, meets in Vienna today to hear from IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran’s nuclear programs.

In a victory for U.S. diplomacy, the IAEA board last month voted to “report” Iran to the Security Council for consideration, but today’s meeting could increase the pressure on the Security Council to act.

Mr. Lavrov said he also discussed with Mr. Bush and Miss Rice Russia’s upcoming chairmanship of the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg and pressed U.S. officials over what he called the “slow process” to approve bilateral deals that would clear the way for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

“The United States is the only country as of today which has not yet signed the protocol on Russia’s WTO accession,” he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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