Russia tells Iran to keep nuclear drive peaceful
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stressed the importance of Iran keeping to a peaceful nuclear programme Thursday in his first meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since a breakdown in ties.
In what the Kremlin called a "completely open" discussion, Medvedev told Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional summit here that nations stood ready to support Iran as long as it kept its ambitions in check.
"The conversation was of a completely open nature. Neither ourselves nor our colleague avoided the unpleasant questions," Medvedev's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said after the meeting in Baku.
"The president (Medvedev) spoke of the importance of the continuation of a peaceful Iranian nuclear programme," Russian news agencies quoted Prikhodko as saying.
"An example (of such cooperation) came at Bushehr" where Russia recently launched Iran's first nuclear power plant, Prikhodko added.
The comments kept to the careful diplomatic line Russia maintained in the days leading up to the high-stakes meeting: strongly backing more talks with Iran but resisting showing outright support for its president.
In a sign of the meeting's sensitivity and contrary to usual practice, Russian state television did not broadcast the opening remarks and showed only the two men shaking hands with Ahmadinejad smiling broadly.
Once a reliable backer of Tehran, Moscow has scrapped a controversial missile deal with Iran and backed United Nations sanctions against the country, which Russia now admits is nearing the ability to develop a nuclear bomb.
Ahmadinejad had earlier this year vented his fury at Medvedev and accused Russia of selling out "to our enemies."
On Thursday he reiterated that such pressure tactics would fail.
"They think that they will achieve something by putting pressure on Iran. But they will not," Ahmadinejad said in reference to a group of world powers that is scheduled to meet with Iran again on December 5.
"They hope that a blockade of Iran will change the Iranian people. But the Iranian people will not be broken by sanctions."
Analysts had billed the Baku encounter as a last chance for Tehran to step out of its growing international isolation and show good will toward an ally whose backing it simply cannot afford to lose.
Yet Tehran's tone going into the meeting was firm.
It insisted that Iran can do without the Russian weapons and even claimed it had developed and tested a system very similar to the S-300 missiles that Russia never sent.
The Kremlin has played down its recent frustrations with Iran and stressed that any form of dialogue -- even if it comes amid sanctions -- was preferable.
"We have to see the seriousness of the Iranian president's intention to continue a purposeful dialogue with the world community," Prikhodko said as he went into the meeting.
"We have to learn why he disagrees... and find out his arguments. But this does not mean that we have to agree with them," he said.
The Caspian Sea summit itself -- the third gathering of nations that also includes Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- was unlikely to make much progress on its most important dispute: how to split up the sea and its vast energy reserves.
Iran insists on dividing the Caspian into five equal portions while the Azerbaijanis are angling for access that corresponds to each country's coastline.
© 2010 AFP