By Hashem Kalantari
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran defied Western powers on Thursday and ruled out talks on its nuclear program, but still looked set to escape the threat of oil sanctions with Russia saying it would not back such measures at the United Nations.
Western powers are becoming frustrated by what they have called Tehran’s “persistent defiance and point-blank refusal” to suspend uranium enrichment and its avoidance of negotiations as demanded by U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006.
Instead of directly addressing those demands, Iran handed world powers on Wednesday proposals including a global system to eliminate nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported.
Cooperation on Afghanistan, fighting terrorism, as well as collaboration on oil and gas projects were also among the proposals, the paper quoted an Iranian official as saying.
The United States said the proposals were “not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran‘s nuclear program.”
Western nations suspect the Islamic Republic is secretly developing a nuclear bomb to seal its status as the big regional power in the Middle East. Iran denies the charge.
U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated Iran will face much harsher international sanctions, possibly targeting its lifeblood oil sector, if it does not accept good-faith negotiations by the end of September.
But Russia said Iran‘s latest proposals to world powers contained something to work with and ruled out oil sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Russia has veto power in the U.N. Security Council.
“Tehran is prepared to have fair and substantive talks about various problems, including the guarantee of access by all countries to nuclear energy and preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms,” Iranian state television quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, as saying.
“But these talks do not include Tehran’s nuclear program and legal activities in this connection.”
The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are evaluating Iran‘s plan and their senior diplomats are to hold a conference call to discuss it on Friday.
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “I would say Iran‘s proposals have time and again failed to live up to its international obligations.”
“NO OIL SANCTIONS”
Russia, however, was more responsive.
“Based on a brief review of the Iranian papers my impression is there is something there to use,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
“The most important thing is Iran is ready for a comprehensive discussion of the situation, what positive role it can play in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region,” he said.
Iran, the world’s fifth biggest crude producer, denies it wants to develop a nuclear arsenal and says it only needs atomic energy to generate electricity to meet the demands of its growing population and maximize oil and gas exports.
The Islamic Republic is seen as being vulnerable to oil sanctions as it has to import some 40 percent of its gasoline to supply the cheap fuel that Iranians see as their birthright.
Lavrov said world powers had agreed to use sanctions only as a way to get Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in its monitoring of Iran’s nuclear work.
“Some of the sanctions under discussion, including oil and oil products, are not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate — they are a step to a full blown blockade and I do not think they would be supported at the UN Security Council,” he said.
The U.N. Security Council has attempted to persuade Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium which can be used in either power plants, or if purified further, in a nuclear warhead.
The six powers offered Iran trade and diplomatic incentives in 2006 in exchange for a suspension of enrichment, but Iran ruled out such a move as a precondition for talks.
They improved the offer last year but retained the precondition. Iran said it wanted a broader peace and security deal, dismissed by Western officials as vague and irrelevant.
Diplomats say Western officials have suggested a face-saving way into talks could be a verified freeze in enrichment expansion, with suspension still the goal in exchange for benefits to Iran. But Tehran has ruled out any such freeze.
(Additional reporting by Janet McBride in Moscow and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Charles Dick)
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