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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rifts in Relations Amid Unity on Iran

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Russia publicly closed ranks Tuesday over the need for Iran to ease international concerns over its nuclear program, but growing fissures in the U.S.-Russian relationship were apparent when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with reporters Tuesday after two days of meetings.

Though Lavrov said it was too early to discuss UN sanctions against Iran, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney had already issued a blunt threat that Iran will face "meaningful consequences" if it fails to cooperate with international efforts to curb its nuclear program. Cheney told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Tuesday that the United States "is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime" and is sending "a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

On Wednesday, after meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Lavrov stressed that the International Atomic Energy Agency must stay in the lead on Iran and be allowed to keep working inside the country, The Associated Press reported.

Asked if Russia would consider approving sanctions, Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations: "I don't think sanctions as a means to solve a crisis have ever achieved a goal in the recent history, so ... we must rely on the professional advice of the IAEA, the watchdog of the nonproliferation regime."

Over dinner Monday, Rice and Lavrov had a long discussion on Iran and U.S. concerns about the downward democratic trends in Russia, U.S. officials said. After Rice mentioned the dialogue to reporters, Lavrov responded that Russia had its own concerns as well, noting that the United States was the "only country" refusing to sign off on Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization. (See story, page 7)

U.S. President George W. Bush also met with Lavrov on Tuesday, signifying the high stakes as the two countries try to chart a course in which their tactics and, sometimes, their goals appear to be in conflict. Lavrov, for instance, arrived in Washington after disrupting the U.S.-led international campaign to isolate the radical Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, which unexpectedly won the Palestinian legislative elections. Lavrov had met with Hamas leaders and offered an upbeat appraisal Tuesday of Hamas' willingness to meet international conditions.

Russia has played a leading role in recent months to resolve the impasse with Iran, offering to establish a joint venture on Russian soil that would enrich uranium for use in Iranian reactors. Some U.S. officials were alarmed Monday that Russian officials appeared to be floating a plan that threatened to unravel the delicate diplomacy designed to bring the Iranian program to the UN Security Council for debate, a long-sought U.S. goal. U.S. officials rejected the idea, which would have allowed Iran to retain a small research facility.

On Tuesday, Lavrov flatly said there was "no compromise, new Russian proposal" and that Russia was determined to clarify the nature of Iran's nuclear programs and ensure it does not violate an international treaty prohibiting civilian technology from being diverted for military use.

Diplomats attending a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said, however, that Russia and China, two of Iran's most important trading partners, advocate measures that could include allowing Tehran to continue some form of carefully monitored, small-scale research to enable it to save face amid international pressure.

"The United States has been very clear that enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil is not acceptable because of the proliferation risk," Rice said, adding that Lavrov did not present a new proposal during their talks.

The IAEA board reported Iran to the UN Security Council last month, with the unusual provision that no action would be taken until the completion of an IAEA board meeting this week. But no further action needs to be taken for Iran's nuclear program to be taken up by the Security Council.

Rice said that, as a first step, the United States would not seek sanctions against Iran. "We will see what [it] is necessary to do in the Security Council," she said. "There is still time, of course, for the Iranians to react."

At the United Nations on Wednesday, Lavrov suggested that Russia opposed sanctions because of Iran's veiled threats that if the UN Security Council takes tough action, it might abandon the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expel IAEA inspectors, The Associated Press reported.

"We should all strive for a solution which would not endanger the ability of the IAEA to continue its work in Iran, while of course making sure that there is no danger for the nonproliferation regime," Lavrov said.

Lavrov also ruled out military action against Iran, saying Russia was "convinced that there is no military solution to this crisis."

The United States and its European partners are initially seeking a statement, to be issued in the name of the Security Council president, that would affirm the resolutions issued by the IAEA and set a time limit for Iran's compliance, U.S. and European officials said.

On Monday, when the IAEA opened its meeting in Vienna, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei expressed optimism that "an agreement could be reached" within a week to bring Iran into compliance with international demands. But, by Tuesday, diplomats in Vienna seemed far less hopeful, with even European allies divided over how best to deal with Tehran.

The United States, France and Britain remain adamant that Iran should be allowed no latitude and must cease all uranium enrichment research, a condition that Iranian officials have said is unacceptable. Germany has been a key partner in the European Union negotiations with Iran, but some German officials have said the Russian idea of a small research facility has merit.

Post Staff Writers Molly Moore in Vienna and Peter Baker in Washington contributed to this report.