Blix: Obama can make progress on Iranian nuclear standoff

A panel of former top international officials voiced hope today for a progress in settling the Iranian nuclear standoff after President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Hans Blix, the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, said he expects the new U.S. administration to take a fresh approach to the deadlocked international talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I hope that the Obama administration in the United States will be more imaginative" on the issue than its predecessors, Blix said after a session of the Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. The forum, which includes former top officials and leading academics, focuses on challenges to the global security.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent congratulations to Obama, the first time an Iranian leader has offered good wishes to a U.S. president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Igor Ivanov, a former Russian foreign minister who served as secretary of the presidential Security Council, also said he expects the change of administration in Washington to play a positive role in the Iranian nuclear dispute.

"The new administration coming to power in the United States could breathe a new life into the negotiation process," Ivanov told reporters.

The U.S., Britain and many other Western countries accuse Iran of using its nuclear program as a cover for weapons development. Iran has denied the claim, saying its uranium enrichment program is aimed at generating electricity.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said today that strong cooperation between Moscow and Washington will be essential for settling the dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and other international crises.

Russia-U.S. relations have degraded steadily amid U.S. plans to deploy missile defense sites in Europe and other disputes. They further worsened after Russia's war with Western-allied Georgia in August.

"With a new administration in the United States coming into office, there is an opportunity to break that downward spiral," Perry said. "If that can happen, then we can start working together cooperatively on a whole set of problems," including the Iranian nuclear issue.

Russia has maintained close ties with Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr, which is expected to go on line next year. Russia has backed limited U.N. sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program, but has staunchly opposed the U.S. push for harsher measures.

Moscow has also sold air-defense missiles and other weapons to Tehran, contracts that have drawn a strong U.S. and Israeli criticism.

Source: Baltimore Sun, United States, Vladimir Isachenkov