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. Rice, Lavrov try to overcome hurdle to Iran sanctions
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (AFP) Dec 18, 2006
The top US and Russian diplomats intervened personally Monday in a bid to overcome the final obstacles to a UN sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program, but with little apparent success.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone Monday morning with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, about "some of the outstanding issues" preventing agreement on the Iran resolution, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We are hopeful we can get a vote in the very near future -- it is time for a vote" on the UN Security Council measure, said McCormack, who would not elaborate on the details of their conversation.

But Russian and US diplomats involved in the negotiations at UN headquarters in New York later said the two sides were still disputing a key provision of the resolution, which is designed to force Iran to comply with earlier UN demands that it freeze its uranium enrichment program.

The draft submitted by Britain, France and Germany would impose a ban on trade with Iran in goods related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and place financial and travel restrictions on persons and entities involved in the sectors.

But Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow could not agree to the travel limits.

"We think this travel ban does not fit, it is something which is not necessary," Churkin told reporters in New York.

US acting ambassador Alejandro Wolff countered that the travel ban was "a priority and an important element" of the resolution, which in order to pass needs the support of all five veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Envoys from the five and Germany, which also has been deeply involved in the negotiations, failed to resolve the dispute during two hours of talks on Monday.

They agreed to hold another session Tuesday before briefing the 10 non-permanent members of the council.

"A proposal is on the table to try and cover all the (outstanding) points," said British UN envoy Emyr Jones Parry. "Wednesday we will see where we are," he said.

Earlier Monday, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns expressed optimism that the sanctions against Iran would finally be passed by the council "in the next several days" following months of arduous negotiations.

Tehran spurned the United Nations' August 31 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.

Russia and China, which have close energy and economic ties with Iran, have steadily sought to water down the proposed sanctions, with Moscow taking the firmest stance as the negotiations entered the final phase, US officials said.

Over the weekend, Lavrov said a consensus was forming around a revised draft presented 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.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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