- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MOSCOW — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confronted mixed messages from Russia on Tuesday about whether it would support more sanctions to persuade Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, U.S. officials traveling with Mrs. Clinton said.

Mrs. Clinton held separate meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Emboldened by Mr. Medvedev’s statement after his meeting with President Obama in New York last month that sanctions may be “inevitable,” Mrs. Clinton headed into her meetings hoping to gauge “what specific forms of pressure Russia would be prepared for,” one official traveling with her told reporters.

During a press conference with the secretary, however, Mr. Lavrov said that sanctions are “very far” from being inevitable and repeated a position Russia has expressed for years.

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

U.S. officials insisted there was “no daylight” between the United States and Russia on Iran, although at least one official admitted to being “struck” by Mr. Lavrov’s comments.

The official spoke on condition that he not be named, under standard State Department ground rules for those accompanying the secretary of state abroad.

The official said Mr. Medvedev “couldn’t have been clearer” during his meeting with Mrs. Clinton that he still holds the position expressed in September — that sanctions are rarely productive but “in some cases they are inevitable.”

Reaction from the Kremlin on the apparent differences between Mr. Medvedev’s and Mr. Lavrov’s remarks was not immediately available.

Mrs. Clinton agreed that diplomacy should be given more time to work and said that Washington is not pushing for more sanctions yet, but that diplomacy backed by the threat of punishment was likely to be more effective.

“At the same time that we are very vigorously pursuing [the diplomatic] track, we are aware that we might not be as successful as we need to be,” she said. “So we have always looked at the potential of sanctions in the event that we are not successful, that we cannot assure ourselves and others that Iran has decided not to pursue nuclear weapons.”

She added that “in the absence of significant progress and assurance that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, we will be seeking to rally international opinion behind additional sanctions.”

Mrs. Clinton said she “didn’t ask for anything today” in terms of specific penalties Moscow might support.

The U.N. Security Council, where Russia has veto power, already has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran, which the West says is developing a nuclear weapon under the cover of a civilian program. However, Mrs. Clinton has promised Congress that the Obama administration will seek more “crippling sanctions” if Iran continues its nuclear program.

Iran agreed tentatively earlier this month to send low-enriched uranium to be further processed in Russia for ultimate use in a Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes.

The deal, which was reached in Geneva after Iran’s chief negotiator met with diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, would make it harder for Iran to produce material for a nuclear weapon.

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