Russia digs in heels in row with U.S. over Iran
By Richard Balmforth
MOSCOW, June 6 (Reuters) - Russia brushed aside new U.S. charges that Iran could be secretly developing a nuclear weapon and vowed on Friday to press ahead with plans to help Tehran build its first nuclear reactor.
"The position of the United States in relation to Iran generally... differs from ours," Georgy Mamedov, a deputy foreign minister, said in a newspaper interview.
"The Americans are in favour of isolating Iran. But we are in favour of cooperation with it, of course within the framework of international agreements," Mamedov told the daily Vremya Novostei.
His blunt comments contrasted with attempts by Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush to play down their differences on the Iran nuclear question and confirmed that the issue remained a major irritant in relations.
Washington, which sees Iran as one of the "axis of evil" states that it says are bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, has been trying to persuade Moscow to stop helping Tehran build an atomic power plant at Bushehr.
It says the project is a front for a clandestine nuclear arms programme -- a charge Iran denies.
Mamedov repeated Moscow's view that there was no proof to support the U.S. claims against Iran.
But he said Russia wanted the Tehran government to sign an additional agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog to provide extra assurance for the world community -- though Iran's failure to do so would not of itself be a bar to continuing Russian nuclear cooperation.
The so-called additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency provides for short-notice inspections of nuclear facilities.
Mamedov said Russia would honour an obligation to supply the Islamic republic with fuel for the unfinished reactor. But he repeated that this depended on securing a separate bilateral deal with Iran to send spent fuel back to Russia for reprocessing.
Mamedov, the foreign ministry's main official dealing with Iran, took particular umbrage at remarks by a senior U.S. State Department official who appeared on Wednesday to point a finger at Russia over Iran during a congressional committee hearing.
Calling for pressure, including sanctions and preemptive military force, to be exerted on states seeking nuclear weapons, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said the "logic of adverse consequences" should also fall on states supplying those countries -- an apparent swipe at Russia.
Mamedov said the comments by Bolton, his direct opposite number on the Iran issue, had provoked "puzzlement" in Russia.
Meetings by Bush and Putin in first St Petersburg and then at the Group of Eight summit in Evian, France, had shown a convergence of views on Iran, he said.
"It is completely incomprehensible why, after such serious agreements in St Petersburg and Evian, such unfounded remarks were necessary," he said.
"We consider it is not very responsible from his side to make such statements, without having any proof and, more importantly, without asking us any questions about this," Mamedov said.