Middle East

Russia urges West to soften Iran sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW: Russia Tuesday urged the West to consider relaxing sanctions against Iran, saying there was unprecedented hope of a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff as Tehran was ready to make a major concession on uranium enrichment.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Iran was now ready to agree to suspend efforts to enrich uranium to 20 percent. If realized, such a move would mark Tehran’s biggest compromise for years in the crisis.

Lavrov’s comments added to the cautious optimism days after the election of moderate Sheikh Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president to replace the hard-line populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It is necessary to avoid tightening the sanctions pressure against Tehran and start thinking about ways for a possible weakening [of sanctions] in a way that is tangible for Iran,” Lavrov said in an interview with Kuwaiti news agency KUNA.

“For the first time in many years, hopeful signs have appeared in this process,” Lavrov said in the interview, a full transcript of which was published by the Russian Foreign Ministry at the same time as world leaders discussed Iran at the G-8 summit.

“The Iranians are confirming the main thing – which is a readiness even at the current stage to stop enriching uranium to up to 20 percent,” he said.

Uranium enrichment is the crux of the decadelong standoff over the Iranian nuclear program, as the process can be used to make both nuclear fuel and the explosive core of an atomic bomb.

A possible concession on enrichment had been hinted at by Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili after talks in Almaty discussions in April. He said Iran could “review” a suspension of 20 percent enrichment, while insisting also on its rights to the full fuel cycle.

“This could be a breakthrough agreement and to a large extent remove the acuteness of the existing problems,” said Lavrov, saying concessions by Iran needed to be met with similar steps by world powers.

It remains to be seen how the Western powers will respond to Lavrov’s calls. However U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that Tehran had to understand that the most strict economic sanctions would stay in place without clear steps from Iran demonstrating it was not developing a nuclear bomb.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has welcomed what it said were vows by Rouhani to show greater transparency over Iran’s nuclear program.

But analysts have cautioned against expecting a major turnaround in Iran’s position, given that foreign and security policy is still controlled by the Iranian No. 1, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani met with Ahmadinejad Tuesday to discuss the handover of power, the official IRNA news agency reported. At the meeting, Ahmadinejad said his administration “is ready to transfer all responsibilities to the next government in a proper way,” according to the report.

Rouhani said, “The transitional period requires cooperation and coordination, and all parties are ready for this.” He said they appointed a two-member committee to follow up on their talks





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