- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

From combined dispatches

Russia’s foreign minister said yesterday that Moscow remains opposed to sanctions against Iran, contradicting a reported promise to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia would back punitive measures if Tehran rejects U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment.

Sergey Lavrov said in Warsaw that he will discuss the nuclear standoff in a meeting today with Miss Rice and foreign ministers from Britain, Germany, France and China.

Imposing sanctions would be “extreme” and unconstructive, he said.

“I think that until all diplomatic possibilities have been exhausted, sanctions would be extreme,” Mr. Lavrov told reporters after meeting with his Polish counterpart, Anna Fotyga. “I think we need to do all we can to push Iran toward starting negotiations.”

Mr. Lavrov’s remarks appear to undercut an agreement between Miss Rice and her five counterparts on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month.

At that meeting, they set the first week of October as the absolute deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium, R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times on Monday.

“[Miss Rice] agreed with the Russians, Chinese and Europeans, that we would all go to sanctions together at the Security Council,” said Mr. Burns, who is the No. 2 official at the State Department under Miss Rice.

Miss Rice is to join the five other foreign ministers for talks in London today.

Mr. Lavrov was even more critical of the United States in remarks published by the Interfax news agency, accusing Washington of acting “unilaterally” in the dispute.

Mr. Lavrov took aim at a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on countries that collaborated with Iran’s nuclear project or sold high-tech weapons to Tehran.

“Unfortunately this law adopted unilaterally by the Americans complicates the work of the six major powers,” Interfax quoted the Russian minister as saying.

“We had agreed to do everything together, including analyzing the situation and preparing courses of action,” Mr. Lavrov protested.

Congress adopted the U.S. sanctions law on Sept. 30, as Iran continued to reject U.N. demands that it stop enriching uranium, fuel that can be used to run nuclear reactors and make atomic bombs.

The U.N. Security Council is expected next week to begin discussing diplomatic or economic sanctions against Iran.

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