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. Russia, US clash over Iran's nuclear 'rights'
MOSCOW (AFP) Oct 15, 2005
Russia and the United States feuded openly Saturday over Iran's nuclear program, with Moscow defending Tehran's right to enrich uranium for atomic energy while visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran could not be trusted with the process.

Speaking to reporters after discussing the issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Rice staked out starkly differing positions on the specific question of whether the Islamic republic should be allowed to enrich uranium for any purpose.

"All members of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have this right," Lavrov stated, adding that Russia had seen no evidence to support US claims that Iran sought to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.

Rice retorted: "It is not a question of rights... the NPT doesn't come only with rights but also with obligations. This is not an issue of rights but of whether or not the fuel cycle can be trusted in Iran."

While their comments only reiterated the well-known and differing positions of Russia and the United States on the Iran nuclear question, the spectacle of Lavrov and Rice arguing over the specific point of the enrichment process was an unusual occurence and underscored their split.

Following her talks with Lavrov, and before leaving Russia for London and talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Rice travelled outside Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin at his official country residence.

At the start of the talks, Putin evoked Rice's trip earlier in the week through former Soviet Central Asia, a region where Moscow and Washington are jockeying for influence.

"I would like to congratulate you on the results of your trip to Central Asia, and I know this trip was very successful," Putin told Rice.

With a subtle twist of diplomatic irony, the ex-KGB officer Putin added: "If you could kindly tell us about the results of your trip in greater detail, we would appreciate that."

Speaking to reporters after the talks, Lavrov said the United States "is not pursuing any aims other than those we jointly set in Central Asia," including the war on terror and restoring stability in Afghanistan, Interfax reported.

Lavrov said Rice had reaffirmed Washington had no plans to set up new military bases in Central Asia after Uzbek authorities ordered the United States to close down its base in Uzbekistan by the end of the year.

Putin and Rice also agreed "not to allow the infringement of rules on non-proliferation of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and not to allow the appearance of new nuclear states in the world," Lavrov said.

The United States suspects Iran may use its fledgling nuclear power program, being developed with help from Russia, to develop nuclear weapons and has sought to put the issue before the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.

Russia says it shares US opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, but insists there is no evidence that Tehran is trying to do so.

"Iran must continue to cooperate with the IAEA so that any questions that arise can be fully clarified," Lavrov said, adding that the NPT regime must "under no conditions" be violated.

Earlier this year, Iran agreed to tighter controls on fuel rods used to generate nuclear energy, signing an agreement with Russia under which Moscow would deliver the fuel and then recover the spent fuel rods under international supervision.

Rice reiterated the US view that oil-rich Iran "needs no civilian nuclear program", but acknowledged that the nuclear fuel agreement with Russia "is a reliable way to make certain that there are no problems with the fuel cycle."

At a meeting last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, passed a resolution that said Iran was in "non-compliance" with the NPT, laying the groundwork for the case to be sent to the UN Security Council.

Russia as well as China and a number of other countries abstained from the vote.

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