Iran Talks Scrapped After Russia Pulls Out

NEW YORK -- Foreign ministers from major powers have canceled a meeting in New York to discuss more sanctions against Iran after Moscow opposed the move.

Russia's decision to pull out of the talks appeared to be a tit-for-tat gesture after the United States balked at another high-level meeting of the Group of Eight that would have included Russia, Germany's foreign minister said Tuesday.

The Iran meeting would have brought together foreign ministers from the permanent members of the UN Security Council -- France, Britain, the United States, China, Russia -- plus Germany, which are involved in diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Russia's Foreign Ministry, angered by U.S. calls for Moscow to be penalized over its war with Georgia, said it saw no need for major powers to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

"We see no 'fire alarm' that would require us to put off other things in the extremely busy week of the UN General Assembly and meet in emergency [session] on the Iranian nuclear problem," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.

Nesterenko, whose comments were posted on the ministry's web site, did not specify whether that meant Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would not take part in the ministerial meeting Thursday.

But U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed later that the meeting was off.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he had heard that Russia canceled the Iran talks because Washington refused to agree to a meeting of G8 foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

A State Department spokesman said there was no G8 meeting scheduled in New York.

Since the Georgia war last month, Washington has sought to exclude Russia from several G8 conference calls and threatened to isolate Moscow from some international institutions.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to meet Lavrov in New York on Wednesday for what was expected to be a tense encounter.

"We are obviously in a rocky period in our relations with Russia," said a senior U.S. official on the eve of the meeting at Rice's hotel.

McCormack said the talks would focus on Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs but that Rice would also push Lavrov hard to meet commitments made in a French-brokered peace deal over Georgia. "We have a number of mutual interests here," said McCormack, who sought to play down tensions.

But senior officials admit that tensions about Georgia are spilling over into other areas, making cooperation more difficult. "It is certainly affecting the tone of how we interact in other areas," said a senior U.S. diplomat, who spoke on condition he not be identified.

Nesterenko reiterated Russia's criticism of U.S. attempts to combine harsh criticism of Moscow and calls to punish it over Georgia with requests for cooperation in other areas. "If they want to punish Russia, that is one thing. If they agree that we have common interests that need to be jointly promoted, then it's a different story. One can say, paraphrasing Condoleezza Rice's words, 'You can't have both,'" he said.