US declines criticism of Russian FM’s trip to Iran

The United States said on Wednesday it knew in advance of a visit by Russia’s foreign minister to Iran and declined to criticize Moscow for the move, amid discontent at Washington’s hard stance on Tehran’s atomic drive.
“We knew about the visit in advance,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said of Wednesday’s trip by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who reportedly passed on an unspecified message from President Vladimir Putin to his Iranian counterpart.
“We would expect that he would deliver the same message that the P-5 plus one has been delivering, and that is that Iran has a choice, that they can go down one pathway or another,” McCormack added, referring to the group of diplomatic powers working to resolve tensions on the Iranian nuclear issue.
“I fully expected that was part of his message to the Iranians,” McCormack said of Lavrov. “But I’ll let him speak for himself about, sort of, the tone, what he encountered when he was in Tehran.”
The six powers — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — have offered economic incentives to Iran if it suspends uranium enrichment that they fear is aimed at making fuel for an atomic bomb.
Iran insists it is only seeking to make nuclear fuel for civilian power needs and its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed it will never give in to the chief Western demand that it suspend uranium enrichment.
Political directors of the six powers were due to meet Friday in London to discuss elements of a proposed new resolution for the UN Security Council to bolster sanctions on Iran.
The US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns will represent Washington at those talks, McCormack said. Burns is first due to meet Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN atomic energy watchdog in Vienna.
ElBaradei has sharply criticized the US approach to Iran, accusing the White House of exacerbating tensions by warning of conflict if Iran secures a nuclear bomb.
The United States last week announced its own new package of unilateral economic sanctions on the Islamic state.
Lavrov meanwhile criticized the sanctions as “not helpful” after meeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday, and called for a peaceful end to the dispute.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2007