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Russia Pushes Iran To Stop Enrichment

Russia had some advice for its neighbor and good friend Iran: Study the incentives the world's key powers are offering - including improved relations with the United States - and suspend uranium enrichment as the U.N. Security Council is demanding.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said there is a broader consensus among the world's powers on how to deal with Iran and a new reality on the ground that will hopefully create the right conditions for Tehran to halt enrichment and start negotiations on its nuclear program.

But in Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini on Tuesday called the council's resolution imposing a third round of sanctions "worthless" and politically motivated, and said Iran would move ahead with its uranium enrichment program, according to the official news agency IRNA.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at U.N. headquarters, Churkin highlighted the unity of the six countries that have been in the forefront of efforts to ensure that Iran's nuclear intentions are peaceful and not aimed at producing atomic bombs.

Foreign ministers of the six countries - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - issued a joint statement after Monday's council vote reaffirming their dual-track approach: They would improve a package of economic incentives and political rewards offered in June 2006 if Iran suspends enrichment, but would push for even more sanctions if Tehran continued its defiance.

"We hope (it) is being very carefully read in Tehran because it does indicate some very important motives ... and intentions of the six in working with Iran," Churkin said, adding that the entire 15-member Security Council had "rallied" around the statement.

The incentives package is going to be improved, he said, "to provide benefits to Iran and the region in political, economic and security fields."

Churkin also pointed to the ministers' "very respectful way" of dealing with Iran, and their call for "further diplomatic efforts and innovative approaches" to create the conditions to open negotiations - which he said he hoped would succeed.

As a first step, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana was asked to meet Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, "to address the interests and concerns of both sides in a manner which can gradually create the conditions for the opening of negotiations."

The ministers reiterated Iran's right as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to develop, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes - and they said once the international community's confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program is confirmed, the country would be treated just like any other non-nuclear weapon state.

Churkin said the ministers had spoken "approvingly of the cooperation which Iran has had lately" with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He expressed hope that the ministers' statement - once studied by the Iranians - would provide "an incentive to give a more positive response to the requirements of the international community which would allow the negotiations to start, and eventually for the Iranian nuclear issue to be resolved."

Churkin said Iran "does not have to worry about any supplies of enriched uranium" for years, now that Russia has provided the fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant it helped Iran build.

"That new reality on the ground should provide another incentive, another opportunity for Iran to be more accommodating to the requirement of enrichment suspension," he said.

Churkin also cited an example of the "very important changes in mood" on the Iran issue - the U.S. shift from objecting to Russian participation in Bushehr to supporting the reactor project, which he called "an indication of the goodwill of the international community."

"It was something which hopefully might create - and we hope should create and has created - a better background for Iran to consider suspension to allow the negotiations to start," Churkin said.

When Iran previously suspended enrichment for two years, it was only negotiating with Britain, France and Germany, Churkin noted, but now the U.S., Russia and China have joined the effort.

"Greater opportunities are there for Iran if it responds positively to the offers by the six," including overcoming its problems with the U.S., he said.

With Russia now participating - "and Russia is a good neighbor and a good friend of Iran," Churkin said, "it can play its positive role in the course and the outcome of the process."

"We hope ... that Iran is going to consider the opportunity very carefully," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Monday the ministerial statement shows the commitment of the six countries to a diplomatic solution.

He reiterated President Bush's statement that, if Iran suspends enrichment and reprocessing activities, "it will have no better partner than the United States of America."