Israeli Minister Gets Little Support

APThe Israeli foreign minister smiling as she listens to an answer from Lavrov during a news conference Thursday.
In town for one day on Thursday to lobby the government for a change in its tack on Iran's nuclear policy, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, left with only general assurances.

"We are fulfilling the wishes of our Israeli partners and are taking a firm stance," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his counterpart at a news conference.

Livni had earlier asked the government to increase pressure on the leadership in Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions, complaining that the present course might be actually helping Iran along its current path.

"Now that Russia has started delivering nuclear fuel to Bushehr, [Iran's] uranium enrichment may serve military goals," Livni told a conference at Moscow's Diplomatic Academy before her meeting with Lavrov.

Russia last month delivered the first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran's first nuclear power plant, in Bushehr, a step that both Moscow and Washington said should convince Tehran to stop its own uranium enrichment program.

Russia is building the facility, but it has delayed the completion of the plant, saying Iran has been slow to make payments. Iranian officials have denied payment delays and accused Moscow of kowtowing to the West.

On Thursday, Lavrov went only as far as to say that it was paramount to support United Nations inspections in Iran.

"Everything must be done to extend rather than narrow the International Atomic Energy Agency's abilities to continue its work," he said, Interfax reported.

Livni warned that Teheran represented a major threat.

"Iran is a dangerous combination of an almost insane ideology, of nuclear weapons development and of their proliferation among other countries," she said.

Israel says Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2010 and that violent statements by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, demonstrate that this would threaten its existence.

Russia, by contrast, denies that there is any military element in the Iranian program and has opposed U.S. calls for tough sanctions against Teheran. Without mentioning Israel or the United States, Lavrov repeated past warnings against unilateral action.

"It is necessary to mount collective efforts, abstain from unilateral steps and focus on Iran's fulfillment of the demands formulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency and supported by the UN Security Council," he said, adding that Moscow would insist on a political settlement as the only reasonable alternative.

Leaving political differences aside, both countries announced a breakthrough on the issue of travel for their citizens. Lavrov said negotiations on a visa-free regime had been completed and needed only to be accepted formally by both governments, Interfax reported.

"The abolition of visas will double or even triple the number of Russian tourists in Israel to over 250,000 per year," Federation Council member and ex-president of the Russian Jewish Congress Vladimir Slutsker said, Interfax reported.