Medvedev doesn’t rule out Iran sanctions

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RUSSIAN President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday he does not rule out sanctions against Iran but added that if used, they should be balanced and wise and not target civilians.

China however does not agree.

It says diplomacy should be given further time in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme.

China’s latest statement came as a senior US diplomat, James Steinberg, arrived in Beijing on the highest level visit since a series of bilateral rows.

Iran’s recent move to begin enriching uranium to 20% has sparked a new wave of international criticism, with the US leading calls for new harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

It is putting as much pressure onto Russia as it can muster.

‘Iran is a difficult topic, now practically any talks with my European colleagues, with my American colleagues touch upon Iran in this way or that,’ said the Russian leader Medvedev.

‘Unfortunately, we have not moved forward recently – the opposite, the situation is worsening,’ Medvedev told journalists after talks with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

‘Unfortunately, our exhortations to Iran’s leadership, our calls to work on a civilian nuclear program under the oversight of the international community, have not produced results yet,’ he said.

Western powers suspect that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at making weapons, while Tehran claims it needs enriched uranium for civilian energy purposes.

‘We are optimists, and we have not lost the feeling that we can achieve success. But nevertheless, should we fail, and I have repeatedly said this, Russia is ready, together with our other partners, to consider the issue of imposing sanctions,’ Medvedev said.

He however added that it would be ‘desirable if sanctions could be avoided’.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation has dismissed as biased the UN nuclear watchdog chief’s latest comments on Iran’s nuclear program.

Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a Monday address to a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors that while the UN body continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, it is unable to confirm that all nuclear material in the country are being used for peaceful activities as Iran has not provided the agency with ‘necessary cooperation’.

The head of Iran’s nuclear programme, Ali Akbar Salehi said on Tuesday that Amano had taken sides against Iran.

‘We expected Mr Amano to examine and adopt a position on the Iranian nuclear issue in an unbiased way, but unfortunately and in contradiction with what he had said before, we did not see an unbiased position,’ Salehi said on the sidelines of a Tehran meeting of industry ministers of the Developing Eight Countries (D8).

‘We hope that he will change his approach,’ he added.

Salehi also noted that Iran was ready for a nuclear fuel exchange deal with the West as long as ‘necessary and enough guarantees’ are provided.

A UN-brokered proposal would require Iran to send most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and subsequently France for further enrichment and conversion into metal fuel rods.

While the Tehran research reactor, which produces medical radioisotopes for cancer treatment, is already running out of fuel, the draft stipulates that Iran would receive a shipment of the nuclear fuel at a later time.

Tehran has called for concrete guarantees for the delivery of the fuel, citing the West’s previous failures to meet its commitments and provide Iran with nuclear fuel as a cause for concern over the Western-backed deal.

Salehi said the guarantee which Tehran insisted on was that the ‘exchange of fuel must happen simultaneously and inside Iran,’adding such a condition was ‘not illogical’.

And Iran rejected a UN International Atomic Energy Agency claim it was not co-operating with its investigation.

The imperialist powers say Iran is enriching uranium to make nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its atomic programme is solely for civilian energy purposes.

Asked about Moscow’s statement, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: ‘We call for a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic means.

‘We believe there is still room for diplomatic efforts and the parties concerned should intensify those efforts.’

Speaking in Paris on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was open to the idea of sanctions – as a last resort.

‘Russia is ready, together with our other partners, to consider introducing sanctions’ if there is no breakthrough in the negotiations, he told a news conference after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Washington hopes the visit by Mr Steinberg and the National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs, Jeffrey Bader, to Beijing, will help ease Sino-US tensions.

‘We’ve gone through a bit of a bumpy path here, and I think there’s an interest both within the United States and China to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible,’ State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.

Beijing and Washington are however at odds over a Taiwan arms deal, trade matters, internet censorship, Iran, and US policy towards Tibet.

It is expected that China will veto any resolution on the Security Council to impose major sanctions onto Iran.

l Meanwhile the US has suffered another reverse in the Ukraine.

Ukrainian parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on Tuesday that the country’s parliament majority coalition has been disbanded, which thrusts Ukraine into crisis, and new parliamentary elections.

‘In line with the Ukrainian Constitution and the Supreme Rada regulations, I announce the cessation of activities of the Supreme Rada parliamentary factions’ coalition,’ Lytvyn said during a parliamentary session.

On February 10, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law requiring the majority coalition manifest to be signed by at least 226 of the coalition members. Previously, only the signatures of faction leaders were necessary to constitute a coalition.

The current governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had a formal majority in the 450-seat parliament, comprising the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (156 seats), the Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence bloc, led by former President Viktor Yushchenko (76), and the Lytvyn Bloc (20).

The collapse of the coalition means Tymoshenko may be forced out as prime minister, if new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych can create a new majority coalition around his Party of the Regions, which is the largest group in the parliament with 175 seats.

In line with Ukrainian law, the prime minister is appointed by the parliament.

Tymoshenko, who has been at pains to preserve the coalition to remain in her post, said on Monday no official had a legal right to disband the coalition citing newly adopted regulations. The coalition is only considered disbanded if a faction leaves it, she said.

If Yanukovych fails to muster the support for a new governing coalition, he is likely to seek to call early parliamentary elections.

Alexander Yefremov, a Party of the Regions member, said on Tuesday a new coalition and a new government would be created within the next week.

‘If it would not, then the early elections scenario is becoming more possible.’

The defeat of the Orange revolution means that Ukraine will not be joining NATO or the EU.