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. Russia opposes travel ban against Iran in UN sanctions
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 18 (AFP) Dec 18, 2006
Russia on Monday stuck to its rejection of a proposed travel ban on Iranian nuclear and missile experts as six major powers sought anew to narrow differences on UN sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

Envoys of the five veto-wielding Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany met informally for two hours and agreed to hold another bargaining session Tuesday.

"We think this travel ban does not fit, it is something which is not necessary...It's not going to help anything," Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

But US acting ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff retorted: "We believe the travel ban is a priority and an important element of this resolution."

A draft resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany would slap a ban on trade with Iran on goods related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and financial and travel restrictions on persons and entities involved.

Churkin added that although Moscow accepted the need for financial restrictions regarding prohibited nuclear-related activities, "we have agreed with" a proposed list of such restrictions.

Russia and China, which have close energy and economic ties with Iran, have pushed to water down the European draft resolution.

But over the weekend Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a consensus was forming around a revised draft put forward by the Europeans earlier this month.

"I hope that it is entirely realistic to come to a consensus in the days remaining before the New Year if our partners take a realistic approach and do not insist on certain positions which we are convinced have nothing to do with the task before us," Lavrov was quoted by Russian media as saying.

Britain's UN envoy Emyr Jones Parry said envoys of the six powers planned to meet again before briefing their colleagues from the 10 non-permanent members of the Council Tuesday.

"A proposal is on the table to try and cover all the (outstanding) points," he added. "Wednesday we will see where we are."

Last week, Western diplomats said they expected a deal by Christmas and Monday a senior US official in Washington said the council would adopt the Iran sanctions within days.

"There will be sanctions passed against Iran in the next several days at the United Nations," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told CNN after President George W. Bush signed a controversial civilian nuclear deal with India, which is already a nuclear weapons power.

Tehran has spurned an August 31 UN deadline to freeze uranium enrichment, a process which can provide fuel for nuclear reactors but also, in highly refined form, material for the core of a nuclear bomb.

Western powers suspect the Islamic Republic is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of its civilian nuclear program.

Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.

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