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. Russia, China cool on Iran sanctions after US report
MOSCOW, Dec 5 (AFP) Dec 05, 2007
Russia on Wednesday joined China in suggesting that a new US intelligence report downgrading Tehran's nuclear weapons risk lessened the need for further UN sanctions.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the shock US report would weigh against a third UN sanctions resolution punishing Tehran, which Washington is pushing hard for at the Security Council.

He added that Moscow was urging Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be part of bomb-making.

"We will judge the situation around the idea of a new UN Security Council resolution on the basis of all factors, including, of course, on the basis of public confirmation of the US information," Lavrov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti news agency.

Lavrov's comments came amid tensions between Russia and fellow Security Council member the United States, notably over US criticism of alleged violations at weekend elections in Russia.

On Wednesday US President George W. Bush sought common ground with Moscow, saying Russia was among countries that understand that Iran's nuclear programme is "a problem."

The US report released Monday said that Iran has not had a military nuclear programme since 2003, contradicting White House warnings that Iran was closing in fast on the ability to produce its own nuclear weapon.

Lavrov's statement echoed the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya.

Asked whether the assessment might make new sanctions against Iran less likely in the near term, the Chinese diplomat said: "I think Council members will have to consider that, because... now things have changed."

Russia and China are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and can veto any resolution. They have both been reluctant to back previous measures against Iran.

Moscow, which is close to completing construction of Iran's first nuclear power station in Bushehr, rejects US claims that Iran presents a military threat.

The disagreement is also at the heart of Moscow's attempt to halt a planned US anti-missile defence system in central Europe -- aimed, Washington says, at Iran.

Lavrov rejected the US intelligence report's claim that Iran once had an active military atomic project.

"We have no information that such a project existed before 2003, although American colleagues stated that the situation was exactly that," Lavrov said, according to Interfax.

He said President Vladimir Putin had told Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili during talks Tuesday near Moscow that Iran must work more closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Putin issued a "call for freezing work on uranium enrichment," Lavrov said.

Putin "called on the Iranian leadership to respond in the most serious way to those calls, those demands contained in decisions by the administration of the IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions," he added.

Turning to the issue of missile defence, Lavrov said that Moscow was "disappointed" that nothing had come of an earlier US proposal to let Russian officers permanently monitor proposed missile defence sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, which Russia views as a threat.

"Now the talk is only of isolated visits," he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the US intelligence report as a "great victory," but the White House has been adamant that tough international measures against Iran were still needed.

On a visit to Nebraska on Wednesday, Bush said that Britain, France, Germany and Russia shared US concern about Iran's intentions.

"These countries understand that the Iranian nuclear issue is a problem, and continues to be a problem, that must be addressed by the international community," Bush said.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, whose inspectors have been investigating Iran's nuclear drive for four years, called for immediate negotiations between Iran and its Western critics.

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