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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. to Pressure Russia Over Iranian Relations

WASHINGTON -- The United States will make fresh diplomatic efforts to get Russia to curb nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran and other countries, but if that fails it is ready to use sanctions, U.S. officials say.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton is due to travel to Moscow this week for high-level talks that will include nonproliferation issues. He will prepare the ground for a Dec. 9 visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The U.S. government's desire to expand relations with Russia, the other major nuclear power, gained ground when the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States propelled the former Cold War rivals into an anti-terrorism alliance.

But despite improving ties, the two sides remain at odds over Russia's willingness to assist Iran in developing nuclear reactors and missiles.

If no way is found to limit the Russian-Iranian relationship, Washington is prepared to impose sanctions under U.S. law as it did on China on Sept. 1 for alleged provision of missile technology to Pakistan, a senior U.S. official said.

"In the absence of cooperation [by Russia], this administration will implement the law. And I think the demonstration of that was on Sept. 1," the official said.

Washington considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and after the September assaults is even more concerned about the potential for extremists to acquire weapons of mass destruction and launch attacks.

Experts estimate Iran could become a nuclear power in four to nine years' time.

Russia is helping Iran to build a nuclear power reactor at Bushehr. Although the facility will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, critics argue that the project benefits Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The Powell and Bolton visits to Russia are due to focus largely on U.S. plans to develop a missile defense system and on U.S. and Russian plans to slash strategic nuclear arms.

Still, "there's no doubt we need to get moving ahead on that [Russia-Iran issue] if we're going to have a new strategic framework," one senior U.S. official said.

But the focus is broader. "We've got to deal not just with Iran -- the principal case -- but also with what Russia is doing on nuclear and missile questions with India," he said.

Washington also wants help with other governments since Iran gets assistance from China and North Korea as well as from Russia. "Can the Russians, in addition to not doing it themselves, help us with the Iranians to stem proliferation from other sources too?" the official added.

For Washington, the purpose of the Moscow talks will be "not to just pick at old scabs but rather to see if there are some issues on nuclear protection or a general set of plutonium issues or in terms of chemical-biological weapons cooperation, discussion of the IAEA and a set of regional issues" where progress can be made, another senior official said.