China and Russia Pressed Iran to Accept U.N. Deal

Russia disclosed on Wednesday that Russian and Chinese envoys had pressed Iran’s government to accept a United Nations plan on uranium enrichment during meetings in Tehran early this month but that Iran had refused, leaving “less and less room for diplomatic maneuvering.”

“The clouds are piling up,” said a top Russian Foreign Ministry official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, following diplomatic protocol. He said Russia would consider supporting sanctions tailored to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, though it “is certainly against any paralyzing sanctions that are aimed not at nonproliferation but at punishing Iran or, God forbid, regime change.”

At the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, confirmed that political directors from the six countries that could approve sanctions against Tehran had consulted by telephone on Wednesday and that China had finally “agreed to engage substantively on the issue.”

Li Baodong, the new Chinese ambassador, emphasized that China is committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. “We think it’s very important to maintain stability and peace in the Middle East,” he told reporters, but he left ambiguous exactly what China is committing to.

The Russian official’s comments came after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chided Russia for announcing the start-up of a new nuclear power plant it had built at Bushehr, in Iran, which she said muddied the international effort to press Tehran on weapons development. The remarks suggested that China and Russia - the two holdouts among the six countries - are themselves feeling the pressure as demands for sanctions mount.

Locking in Russian support for sanctions was a central goal of the Washington’s “reset” with Moscow. But Russia has long resisted measures that would strain its ties with Tehran - a point underscored last week when, during a visit to Moscow by Mrs. Clinton, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin said that the Bushehr’s first reactor would begin operating this summer.

At the Wednesday briefing, the Foreign Ministry official said that sanctions would have no effect on the Russian-built plant. He also said Iran had such a limited ability to enrich uranium that he doubted it could build a nuclear weapon soon. But he said Russia had a clear security interest in monitoring the nuclear programs of all countries near its borders.

“I don’t want to say that Iran would inflict a nuclear strike on Russia, but any conflict between a nuclear Iran and a third party would have shattering negative consequences for our security interests and for our neighboring territories,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Lukoil, Russia’s largest private oil company, said it was pulling out of a mid-size oil field development in Iran called Anaran because of “international sanctions” against the country. Lukoil made the announcement in a briefing on its results for 2009, saying restrictions on investment had cost the company $63 million last year.

Grigory Volchek, a Lukoil spokesman, would not say which sanctions had compelled the pullout from the Anaran project, which includes several oil fields. Oil analysts in Moscow said Lukoil might have decided to adhere to American sanctions because the company owned a chain of gas stations in the United States.

A concurrent announcement on Wednesday by Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy giant, suggested that the authorities are trying to avoid the impression of bending to United States law when doing business with third parties. Gazprom said it would invest in two development blocks within the Anaran project, Interfax reported.

Source: The New York Times