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Russia, China still oppose sanctions against Iran

MOSCOW—Talks among diplomats from the world's major industrialized countries ended here Wednesday with no agreement on how to end the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that most of the countries that took part in the talks—the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on Tuesday, the Group of Eight industrialized countries on Wednesday—favored imposing sanctions on Iran if it doesn't stop its nuclear program.

"Everybody talked about the need to consider actions. The majority said sanctions," Burns said.

But China and Russia, who as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council can veto any proposal, still remain opposed.

As if to underscore its position, Russia confirmed that it would sell 29 mobile air defense missiles to Iran—a step Burns criticized.

"It's a mistake for countries to have military relationships with Iran," Burns said, citing the Iranian leadership's support for the "destruction of Israel" and calling it the "central banker" for Middle East terrorism.

The talks here were really two sets of meetings. Tuesday's session involved the five permanent security council members—China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States—and Germany. Wednesday's session was a slightly different grouping, with China, which is not a G8 member, gone, but with Canada, Italy and Japan added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country wanted to wait to consider further action against Iran until the International Atomic Energy Agency reports back to the Security Council on whether Iran's nuclear program complies with international treaties. That report is expected April 28.

"We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month," Lavrov told reporters.

Burns said Iran's announcement last week that it had successfully begun low-level enrichment of uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility had given talks about the issue a new sense of urgency, and there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity since.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday said that Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai visited Tehran on Sunday and urged Iranian officials to reach a negotiated resolution to the crisis.

A top-level Iranian delegation arrived in Moscow Wednesday to meet with Russian officials. The delegations also met with French, German and British diplomats.

Burns said the United States would continue to press China and Russia to support sanctions against Iran.

"We haven't given up on a diplomatic solution," Burns said. "We're certainly a lot stronger working with Russia and China than we are working on our own."

Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Iran's southern port of Bushehr and has provided weapons to Iran, giving it interests that might be damaged by any international sanctions.

Russia has continued to say it opposes Iranian uranium enrichment, but analysts in Moscow are suggesting a compromise that would permit Iran to continue low-level enrichment to fuel its nuclear power plants while agreeing not to refine the uranium further, a step that would be necessary to build a nuclear weapon. Burns said the United States would oppose such a compromise.

Burns said he expects talks about the Iran nuclear crisis to continue for months. He said it is likely to dominate the Group of Eight meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July.

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(Bonner reports for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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