Iran seeks nuclear crisis breakthrough as Moscow proposes step-by-step approach


Russia and Iran pinned their hopes Wednesday on a new Kremlin-backed nuclear proposal aimed at reviving stalled negotiations with Western powers suspicious of Tehran’s weapons drive.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi to iron out the details of a “step-by-step” plan proposed by Moscow that rewards Tehran for greater transparency with a gradual easing of UN sanctions.

The second round of negotiations in Moscow came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev and pronounced his approval of the new approach.

“If one is starting on a long journey, one has to take the first step,” the Iranian foreign minister said following his Moscow talks with Lavrov.

“The Russian proposal has good elements,” he added. “We will study all the details of this proposal. It is positive.”

Mr. Lavrov said he hoped the proposal would give the required push to negotiations that have remained largely frozen in time.

“We expect that these topics (set out in the steps plan) will help us to move to an active phase of further work to ultimately solve this question,” Mr. Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister first presented Russia’s new proposal during a July meeting in Washington with US President Barack Obama.

Previous attempts by Russia to mediate between its traditional Middle East partner and the West have been viewed with suspicion by the US administration and Washington has thus far taken a wait-and-see approach to the latest bid.

A Russian foreign ministry source told the Kommersant business daily that Lavrov’s plan “is not an actual document but a series of proposals.”

The Russian diplomat added that the idea has been agreed by other major Western powers and “has received their support.”

But he also admitted that US officials in private conversations think that “Lavrov’s plan is unlikely to succeed” and would much prefer putting additional pressure through stronger sanctions.

The Iranian negotiations involve the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany--the so-called P5+1. The last round of talks between the Islamic republic and the group broke down in January.

Iran remains adamant that it will push ahead with its controversial nuclear enrichment activities while denying that they are a part of a secret weapons program.

Russia for its part has heightened its criticism of Iran and now argues that it is up to the Islamic state to prove its peaceful intentions.

Mr. Lavrov said that his recent contacts with Tehran suggest a more evident readiness to listen to foreign demands.

“I have the impression that there is an understanding of the need to strengthen trust and solve the question concerning the Iranian nuclear program,” Mr. Lavrov said as he opened his talks with Salehi.