Rice Fails to Convince Lavrov on Iran

ReutersRice talking with Lavrov at the start of a NATO meeting in Brussels on Friday.
BRUSSELS -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has failed to persuade Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the urgency of new sanctions for Iran, and the two have clashed over the future of Kosovo.

Rice said talks with Lavrov on Friday were "an extension of other conversations we have had," suggesting that the two did not see eye to eye.

"So it was a continuation of that discussion and a recommitment to our two-track approach," Rice told reporters at an annual NATO meeting, referring to the United States' strategy of pressing for new sanctions and demanding Iranian transparency about its nuclear program while offering talks to sweeten the deal.

Rice was at NATO's Belgian headquarters explaining the recent release of a U.S. intelligence report that said Iran stopped atomic weapons development in 2003. The report appears to undermine the U.S. government's claim that Iran is driving toward a bomb and thus poses an urgent threat. Rice and other U.S. officials insist that Iran remains a danger and they say Tehran could restart a shelved program using technology and materials it is still amassing.

After seeing Rice, Lavrov told reporters: "It fully confirms the information that we have: that there is no military element in their nuclear program. We hope very much that these negotiations with Iran will continue."

The question is not whether to continue negotiations -- a process that has so far yielded nothing -- but whether Russia and fellow UN Security Council holdout China will agree that further coercive sanctions are the best way to persuade Iran to bargain during those talks.

Lavrov did not discuss what Rice had told him. His comments were not unexpected, given past Russian statements on the issue, but they nevertheless dealt a setback to efforts to boost pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities with a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution.

Also Friday, Lavrov warned against independence for Kosovo, which looks poised to split from Serbia following the failure of international negotiations.

Lavrov said countries that supported Kosovo's breaking away without an agreement with the Serbs would be on "a very slippery downward slope" by setting a precedent for other separatist regions. "It certainly won't help the stability of Europe," Lavrov said.

Rice retorted that failure to move ahead on Kosovo's status was ignoring the reality in the province, where the ethnic-Albanian majority has pledged to declare independence with or without an international agreement.

Lavrov said any decision on Kosovo's status without Serbia's agreement would break international law. He called for more talks and earlier in the week accused Western nations of hampering efforts to find a negotiated solution by encouraging the separatists.

Rice said, however, that the talks had run their course.

Russia and NATO also failed to make any progress on narrowing their differences over Moscow's plans to suspend application of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe on Dec. 12. In a statement, the NATO ministers acknowledged relations with Russia were in a "challenging phase." They expressed regret and concern over the announced plan to suspend the arms control treaty and recalled that NATO agreements with Russia were based on respect for democracy and civil liberties.