BEIJING/ISTANBUL/SINGAPORE: Russia supports Tehran’s atomic program as long as it is “peaceful,” President Vladimir Putin told Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Thursday ahead of global talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“We have always supported the right of the Iranian people to modern technologies, including the peaceful use of atomic energy,” Putin told Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Beijing.
“But I want to emphasize that it is peaceful that we are talking about. You know our position.”
The West believes that Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian program but Tehran insists its intentions are purely peaceful, and the situation has brought about a shaky standoff.
The talks between the two leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit – the first since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term – come as Russia prepares to host the latest round of global talks on Iran.
The June 18 and 19 meeting between world powers and Iranian negotiators will try to find a diplomatic solution to the current standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday Iran must be ready to take concrete action when it discusses its nuclear program with world powers in Moscow later this month.
Clinton added that one of the main concerns was Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium, which the West and others say is close to being weapons-grade material, and that the goal of the June 18-19 talks was to begin the work necessary for a diplomatic solution.
“We want them to come prepared to take concrete steps,” Clinton said of Iran at a news conference in Turkey on the sidelines of a counterterrorism forum.
Clinton said the two-track policy of pressure and diplomacy has yielded results because Iran has been left with no option but to negotiate or face isolation compounded by serious economic penalties.
“I am convinced that one of the reasons that Iran came back to the negotiating table was because of the success of our pressure strategy,” she said.
Russia has in the past urged Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to clear up any suspicions about the nature of its nuclear program.
But it has never explicitly backed Western claims that Iran is seeking to develop an atomic weapon – a stance reiterated Thursday.
“We are very strong supporters of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Putin said.
“But we know your position and the position of all the Iranian leadership, which is that Iran is not working on the creation of a nuclear weapon. We are proceeding based on this.”
Putin’s comments came after leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s member states issued a statement Thursday opposing any use of force in Iran, saying it could threaten global security.
In his talks with Putin, Ahmadinejad called for “serious and broader cooperation between Iran and Russia” due to developments “in the region and the world.”
“Iran and Russia are now on the same side of the barricades,” he told the Russian leader.
“There are people who stand against the progress and development of both Russia and Iran. Especially considering that now, NATO has set its sights on the east,” he said.
Ahmadinejad was likely referring to a NATO defense system that is being deployed over several years to protect Europeans from the threat of ballistic missiles from countries such as Iran.
Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Thursday the United States would “very soon” announce a new list of countries that would receive waivers to financial sanctions on oil trade with Iran.The latest round of U.S. sanctions come into effect on June 28 and aim to cut Iran’s oil revenue to pressure Tehran into halting its nuclear program.
The United States can exempt countries from sanctions if they make significant reductions to crude imports from Iran, and granted a waiver to Japan and 10 European countries in March.
The official, who is familiar with the talks on sanctions and asked not to be identified, declined to give more details on which countries would join the exemptions list, but said the United States and South Korea had made progress in talks.