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U.S. Woos Russia on Nuclear Issue

A State Department official visits Moscow to try to enlist its aid in pressuring Iran and North Korea on weapons programs.

May 06, 2003|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — In a bid to increase pressure on Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear ambitions, U.S. Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton met here Monday with key Russian officials to seek additional help.

The consultations preceded a series of summits and other meetings that could lead to U.N. Security Council consideration of Iran's alleged failure to live up to the country's nuclear commitments, Bolton said at a news conference. The issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program already has gone to the council.

The summits include a meeting in St. Petersburg between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin at the end of May and a summit of the Group of 8 major industrialized nations in France in early June, Bolton said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency board will consider the Iran issue at a mid-June meeting in Vienna. From there, it could go to the Security Council, Bolton said, implying that Washington wants Moscow's support for such action. Discussion at the Vienna meeting will focus in part on the IAEA's confirmation that Iran possesses centrifuges capable of producing weapons-grade uranium, he said.

"President Putin and President Bush have already agreed ... that it is neither in Russia's interest nor in America's interest to have a nuclear weapons-capable Iran," Bolton said. The reasons for Russia's growing concern "should be obvious," he added, because Iran also is developing ballistic missiles and "here in Moscow we're a lot closer to Iran than I am when I go back to Washington."

Moscow's position on Iran's nuclear program is critical because Russia has helped Iran construct a nearly completed 1,000-megawatt, light-water reactor in the western port of Bushehr and has considered additional nuclear power projects.

The United States believes that the Bushehr project, estimated to cost $800 million, is a cover for obtaining sensitive technologies to develop nuclear weapons. Washington also suspects that Russian scientists, without government approval, are helping the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, and it wants Moscow to crack down vigorously on such activity.

In recent months, Russian officials have begun to back away from their previous insistence that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Moscow has also expressed growing concern about North Korea's diplomatic brinkmanship, particularly its recent withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"There has indeed been a certain change in Moscow's attitude toward North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs," said Andrei Kortunov, vice president of the Russian Foreign Policy Assn.

But Moscow has greater "misgivings" about North Korea's government than about Iran's and is less confident in its ability to influence it, Kortunov said.

Concerning Iran, Russia is likely to try harder to draw a careful line between civilian and military technologies, he said, although this more careful approach has not crystallized into support for U.S. positions.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that at the meeting between Bolton and Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev, the two sides "expressed an interest" in having Iran sign an agreement with the IAEA on additional nonproliferation guarantees.

At a news conference last month, Rumyantsev expressed concern about Iran's nuclear program, saying that if reports of Iran's possessing centrifuges that can make weapons-grade uranium were true, "the situation is worrisome."

"There must be IAEA guarantees," he said. "Iran must declare such activities and provide for the possibility of control."

On Monday, Bolton said the IAEA's June meeting is critical because "if the IAEA board finds that Iran has violated its obligations under its safeguards agreement with the agency, then it's required to report the matter to the Security Council for such action as the council might deem appropriate."

He added that with regard to North Korea's nuclear program, Washington shares with Russia "the determination that if at all possible, the matter be resolved through diplomatic and peaceful means."

"I don't think there's any doubt that there's complete unity of opinion on the subject between Russia and the United States that it is not acceptable for North Korea to have nuclear weapons," he said. "Since the United States and Russia share a common objective, we ought to be able to find a peaceful way through this."

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Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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