Putin Pushes Iran on Nuclear Transparency

ria-novostiJalili, left, speaking with Putin at the president's Novo-Ogaryovo residence on Tuesday. Neither made any public comment on the U.S. intelligence report.
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told Iran's top nuclear negotiator that Tehran's nuclear program should be transparent and stay under the control of the United Nations atomic watchdog.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, said after talks at Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow that Saeed Jalili pledged that Iran would quickly answer all outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The talks came one day after the release of a new U.S. intelligence report that said Iran stopped work to develop nuclear weapons four years ago, largely because of international scrutiny and pressure.

Russia has taken a careful stance on Iran, where it is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor, seeking to preserve economic and political ties without angering the West. Moscow has urged Tehran to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors but has said it sees no evidence that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, as the United States and its allies had contended.

"We welcome the extension of your cooperation with the IAEA. We expect that your programs in the nuclear sphere will be open, transparent and conducted under control of the authoritative international organization," Putin said at the start of a meeting with Jalili at the presidential residence on Moscow's outskirts.

Neither Putin nor Jalili made reference to the U.S. national intelligence estimate on Iran, a synthesis of information from U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded that Iran had suspended its attempt to build a nuclear weapon in 2003.

The assessment's unclassified summary, released Monday, was a surprising reversal of the previous U.S. intelligence view that Iran was aggressively pursuing a nuclear program for military purposes.

Bush said Tuesday that the international community should continue to pressure Iran on its nuclear programs, saying Tehran remained dangerous, despite the report.

"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program," Bush said. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Iran meanwhile, praised the U.S. assessment Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki saying Tehran welcomed Washington's move to "correct" its view on the country's nuclear activity, which Iran has insisted is for peaceful purposes like power production.

China, which has a UN Security Council veto and agreed only reluctantly to earlier sanctions, said the report created new conditions. "I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed," said China's UN ambassador, Guangya Wang.

France and Britain joined Bush in saying international pressure must be maintained on Iran, while Israel, which believes a nuclear Iran could threaten its existence, questioned the report and urged continued pressure on Tehran.

Israel, a close U.S. ally, was unimpressed by the report, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for the U.S.-backed campaign to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions to press ahead regardless.

Before meeting Jalili, Putin had a 40-minute telephone conversation with Bush in which they discussed Iran, a Putin aide said.

Speaking to reporters after Putin concluded his meetings with Jalili, Lavrov said Iran promised to answer all of the IAEA's outstanding questions.

Jalili "told us about their cooperation with the IAEA and elaborated on the plans of the IAEA and Iran to close all outstanding issues in the nearest time possible," he said.

"We are taking note of Tehran's determination to fully cooperate with the IAEA. We also appreciate Iran's adherence to the treaty on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and observing all of its content," Lavrov said.

Russia is building Iran's first nuclear power plant in the port city of Bushehr, but it has delayed the completion of the plant, saying Tehran has been slow to make payments. Iranian officials have denied payment delays and accused Moscow of kowtowing to the West.

During his trip to Iran in October, Putin said Russia would complete the Bushehr plant, but refused to say when it could begin operations. He said a decision on shipping fuel for Bushehr would be made once Russian and Iranian experts agree on revisions to the contract.

IAEA inspectors finished their inspection of the Siberian plant that is preparing the Bushehr fuel late last month and sealed the fuel containers.

Experts predict that Putin is likely to use the construction of the plant as a bargaining chip in his efforts to persuade Tehran to show some cooperation with the West.

The Kremlin has bristled at the U.S. push for tougher measures against Iran over its nuclear program, saying they would only widen the rift.

AP, Reuters