World powers to discuss Iran sanctions

iran president

LONDON (Reuters) – The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will discuss imposing a third round of sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program on Friday.

Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium and the West fears it is bent on producing atomic bombs, which Tehran denies.

The United States, which will be represented by undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns, says it wants to make progress in outlining the sanctions resolution and ministers can then decide on its timing.

Burns said he hoped Russia and China would attend the London meeting with a “serious demeanor”. He said the two countries, major trading partners with Iran, had effectively blocked moves towards a third sanctions resolution for six months.

The United States imposed economic sanctions last week and has not ruled out military action against Iran. Russia believes dialogue rather than more punishment is the way forward while China reacted to the American move by saying it was opposed to imposing sanctions “too rashly”.

Speaking to reporters on Friday on her way to Turkey, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington had had some “tactical” differences with China and Russia about the timing and the “depth or breadth” of a Security Council resolution.

“But the Russians — when I talked to (Foreign Minister) Sergei Lavrov yesterday — he said they were prepared to come and work on the text as we agreed when we were together last and we will just have to see how those discussions go,” she said.

The major powers agreed in late September to delay a vote on tougher sanctions until late November at the earliest after it had received reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog and a European Union negotiator.

After four days of talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Tehran meant to help clear up suspicions about Iran’s atomic activities, both sides expressed satisfaction, Iran’s state broadcaster reported on Thursday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, is due to report in mid-November about whether Iran has answered questions about its past secret nuclear activity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week Tehran would not retreat in the dispute and dismissed U.S. offers of broader negotiations if Iran suspended its most sensitive atomic work.

Iran says its program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more oil and gas.

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Putin aims for EU deal ‘soon’ at Portugal summit

MAFRA, Portugal (AFP) – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin voiced hope at a summit on Friday that a new EU-Russia treaty could be agreed “soon,” even as Moscow outlined sharp policy differences with Brussels.

Putin alleged discrimination against Russian companies in Europe and, ahead of the summit, he warned Europe to exercise restraint on the issues of Iran’s nuclear programme and the future status of Kosovo.

“We hope to be able to not only start negotiations on a new partnership agreement but already have an agreed draft document soon,” Putin was quoted as saying at the start of talks with EU leaders in a statement.

Political negotiations for a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, seen as crucial in Europe because of key energy clauses that are to be included in the document, have been stalled by Poland because of a trade dispute with Moscow.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the dispute were raised by the victory on Sunday in Poland’s parliamentary elections of a pro-European party that has also vowed to improve relations with Russia.

“I hope that at the next summit we can start negotiations on this agreement,” the EU’s External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told AFP ahead of the summit in Mafra, 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside Lisbon.

Ferrero-Waldner was taking part in the talks in a former residence of the Portuguese royalty alongside European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The summit in Mafra could be Putin’s last as Russian president as he is due to step down in May 2008 following presidential elections amid continued uncertainty over his possible future political role.

Ahead of the talks, the Kremlin chief had emphasised policy differences with the West, likening supporters of tough policies on Iran to “mad people wielding razor blades” and calling for “patience” on Kosovo’s future.

Russia, which is helping to build a nuclear reactor in Iran, has gone against most Western powers by opposing tighter UN sanctions against Tehran and blocking moves towards independence for Kosovo, a southern Serbian province.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who hosted the summit as his country currently holds the EU presidency, emphasised the importance of good EU-Russia relations for the sake of “world peace.”

The last summit near the Russian city of Samara earlier this year was marred by bitter disputes between Putin and EU leaders over the state of democracy in Russia and EU officials have been hoping to improve relations.

Economic ties between Brussels and Moscow have boomed despite frequent rows, with trade turnover going up five times since Putin became president in 2000, officials said.

But Russia has complained about alleged curbs on Russian firms in Europe.

“The idea that the Russians are coming with their frightening money, with their terrible investments, that they’re going to buy everything, is funny at best,” Putin said on Friday.

Russia has in particular accused Europe of planning to restrict investment access for state-controlled gas giant Gazprom to the European Union, while Brussels has called on Russia to free up its own energy market.

“We’re going to tell them that it’s very, very important to liberalise the markets in that sector. We want more reciprocity, more transparency, more openness,” Ferrero-Waldner said before the talks.

EU and Russian business chiefs, who met with Putin and the EU leaders in Mafra ahead of the summit, warned that disputes at the political level could harm booming economic ties.

“We all see a very positive trend in economic relations between Russia and the European Union… but if you look at the politics it’s a lot worse,” Anatoly Chubais, CEO of Russia’s electricity monopoly UES, told reporters.

“Today, we urged EU and Russian leaders to resolve the questions of a new partnership agreement and Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the sake of business,” Chubais said.

Officials on Friday also signed an agreement increasing the import quota for certain Russian steel products and confirmed an earlier deal on a new system to warn Europe ahead of time about possible cuts in Russian energy supply.

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Putin calls for restraint over Iran and Kosovo

LISBON (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called on the West to show restraint over both Iran’s nuclear programme and the future status of Kosovo, ahead of an EU-Russia summit here.

Putin, in Lisbon for Friday’s meeting, warned that the threat of fresh sanctions or even military action against Iran over its nuclear programme would only make the situation worse.

He also called for “patience” on the question of the future status of Serbia‘s province of Kosovo, where the mainly ethnic Albanian population is seeking independence.

After the United States on Thursday ratcheted up tensions over Iran’s nuclear drive with a raft of new sanctions targeting the Islamic republic’s military and banks, Putin warned against harsh action.

“Why make the situation worse, bring it to a dead end, threaten sanctions or even military action,” he asked.

“You can run around like mad people wielding razor blades but it is not the best way to resolve the problem.”

Taking a peaceful approach towards North Korea in the controversy over its nuclear programme had brought the international community closer to a solution, he added.

Tehran insists it is developing a civilian programme to produce nuclear energy, but the United States, Israel and other Western powers suspect it could be masking efforts to develop a nuclear military capability.

On the issue of Kosovo, Putin said that Russia was respecting international law by opposing UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari‘s recommendation to give internationally supervised independence to the Serbian province.

“Why upset the principles of international law by encouraging separatism in Europe,” he asked.

“Don’t you have enough problems in Spain, in Belgium?”

Spain is facing renewed violence from regional Basque separatist group ETA, while there have been calls in the mainly Flemish speaking north of Belgium for greater autonomy from the mainly Francophone south.

“When we’re talking to our colleagues from the European Commission I sometimes get the impression that we are defending Europe’s interests more than our counterparts,” Putin said.

The Kremlin chief’s comments came ahead of Friday’s talks with EU leaders in Mafra, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the capital Portuguese Lisbon, hosted by Prime Minister Jose Socrates whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

No major announcements are planned for the summit, although both EU and Russian officials have emphasised that business ties between Moscow and Brussels are booming.

Russia has complained, however, about what it calls discrimination against Russian energy companies in the European Union and EU-Russia talks on forming a new partnership are stalled.

Russia has also been angered by US plans to deploy interceptor missiles and a radar in EU member states Poland and the Czech Republic, saying the missile shield is aimed against Russia.

Washington says the shield is to fend off possible missile strikes by Iran.

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