Moscow ready to back Iran sanctions
IRAN'S supreme leader took to the deck of a naval guided missile destroyer yesterday in defiance of the international storm sparked by the United Nations' warning that Tehran may be building a nuclear bomb.
There were renewed calls for sanctions from the United States, Britain, France and Germany. But some of the strongest reaction came from Russia, the country traditionally most reluctant to impose them, raising hopes of a consensus at the UN Security Council.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran, the first since the departure of its controversial former chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the evidence that the agency had gathered "raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile," concerns which Iran had repeatedly refused to address.
"We are very alarmed and we cannot accept this, that Iran is refusing to co-operate with the IAEA," Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, said. "For about 20 years, the Iranian leadership carried out its clandestine nuclear programme without reporting it to the IAEA. I do not understand why there was such secrecy."
France, which is chairing the Security Council, urged world powers to act with urgency and determination to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Germany's Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, said the report had made a dramatic impact on the Chinese and appeared to have eroded their opposition to sanctions.
The tenor of the IAEA report, released under the new director-general, Yukiya Amano, marks a radical change in the agency's attitude towards Iran.
Mr ElBaradei left the agency last October amid controversy and accusations from his staff that he suppressed evidence implicating Iran in weapons development.
The report sets out in sober detail the technical questions it wants Iran to answer drawn on that evidence, including indications that Tehran worked on developing a warhead small enough to fit on a missile.
Mr Lavrov backed the agency's calls, saying: "Some questions remain on the table and Iran has so far not reacted to them but they are serious and we need to understand how several documents on military nuclear technology found their way to Iran." A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman hinted that Moscow was ready to back efforts to bring a UN resolution on sanctions to the Security Council within weeks.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking at the launch of Iran's first domestically-built naval destroyer, denied that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons and accused Washington of trying to frighten its Arab neighbours into buying American weapons. "Our religious principles and beliefs consider such weapons to be a symbol of destruction that is forbidden," he said. (© The Times, London)