M A I N   N E W S

PM talks to Putin on Iran issue
To attend G-8 meeting in Russia
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 5
Ahead of his statement in the Parliament tomorrow on the Iran issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin late last night and discussed the new international crisis in the making.

During the 20-minute conversation, Mr Putin invited Dr Manmohan Singh to participate in a broader dialogue with the G-8 at St Petersburg, an invitation which the Prime Minister accepted. Russia, which has taken over the Presidency of G-8 for the first time, is hosting this year’s G-8 summit.

The two leaders also discussed ongoing cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy. A US-type nuclear deal between India and Russia is currently at a delicate stage of discussion. Besides, the implementation of areas of cooperation identified during their last Summit meeting in Moscow in December 2005 in view of the forthcoming visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov later this month, also came up for discussion.

The discussion between President Putin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also covered India-Russia bilateral economic and commercial relations, the Ministry of External Affairs said today. The Prime Minister expressed satisfaction that the bilateral agreement on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization had been signed recently, in accordance to his commitment to President Putin during their last meeting.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s telephonic conversation with Mr Putin has come just before the March 6 crucial meeting of the 35-member Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) where the subject of Iranian nuclear programme may well be tossed out of the IAEA court to the United Nations Security Council.

The Prime Minister and Mr Putin exchanged views in context of the forthcoming IAEA meeting. Dr Manmohan Singh welcomed Russia’s efforts to address the issue related to Iran’s nuclear programme through dialogue and consultations.

The IAEA Board of Governors will decide on March 6 whether to formally refer Iran to the UN Security Council for violating its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Just when it seemed that the long-running political drama over Iran’s nuclear programme was heading towards conclusion, Russia appears to have negotiated a last-minute diplomatic breakthrough that has the potential to defuse the crisis.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei had last week circulated his latest report on the agency’s nuclear verification in Iran to the IAEA’s member states. Iran plans to set up 3,000 centrifuges later this year.

The report states that the IAEA “has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons,” but lists a string of questions about Iran’s nuclear programme that it was yet to answer. The IAEA report notes that tests began on February 11, when Iran fed a single centrifuge with converted uranium gas. The cascade is a chain of centrifuges in which each in turn enriches the gas.

Significantly, a separate compromise has also been in circulation for the past one year. As per this formula, Iran would maintain a token enrichment capability. That concept was taken a step further in a report published recently by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. It notes that zero enrichment in Iran is likely “unachievable” and lays down a “delayed limited enrichment” plan that would recognise Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium at home, but delay the programme by up to seven years.

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