Reuters - Hardening its opposition to sanctions against Iran, Russia said on Friday only proof that the Islamic Republic was seeking atom bombs could justify consideration of such measures by the U.N. Security Council.
The council is awaiting a report on April 28 from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on whether Tehran is meeting its demands for a halt to uranium enrichment and answers to queries about its nuclear programme.
The United States, Britain and France want the Security Council to weigh sanctions if, as widely expected, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei concludes Iran has not met U.N. demands.
But Russia made clear that it would not view such non-compliance on its own as justifying punitive measures.
"We will only be able to talk about sanctions after we have concrete facts confirming that Iran is not exclusively involved in peaceful nuclear activities," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Iran says its nuclear work aims only to produce electricity, not bombs. But it has hidden parts of its programme in the past, and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has heightened world concern by saying Israel should be "wiped off the map".
Senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani told Friday prayer worshippers ElBaradei and the IAEA had singled out Iran's quest for technology, while ignoring a nuclear-armed Israel.
"Israel has got nuclear warheads and it is proliferating them constantly and you do not ask them why," Kashani said.
He also criticised the Security Council for failing to live up to its name. "You are establishing security for the wolves and predators rather than for the sheep," the cleric declared.
Iran had said an IAEA team led by Olli Heinonen, deputy director-general for nuclear safeguards, would arrive on Friday, but diplomats said they had been told Heinonen would not go.
A Vienna-based EU diplomat said Iran had not responded to requests for more cooperation. There was no point in Heinonen going to Tehran "if he's just going to get stonewalled".
"DEBACLE IN MOSCOW"
The diplomat said it was not clear if any senior aides to Heinonen would go to Iran as had been expected. A diplomat from another Western state also said he was informed Heinonen had cancelled. IAEA officials refused to comment.
A diplomat familiar with IAEA dealings with Iran said the trip had been clouded by what he said was the hard line taken by Iranian negotiators who met EU officials in Moscow on Wednesday.
"It was a debacle in Moscow, and the Iranians are acting empowered," the diplomat said.
No consensus on sanctions emerged when the council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany held talks in Moscow this week.
Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi met officials of Britain, France and Germany in Moscow after those talks, but there was no breakthrough, a British diplomat said.
Vaeedi arrived in Vienna late on Thursday, Iran's student news agency ISNA reported. There was no immediate confirmation.
Last week Iran defied U.N. and IAEA demands by announcing it had enriched uranium to the level needed in power stations and that it would push for industrial-scale fuel production.
Russia -- a veto-holder on the Security Council -- has long argued that sanctions might not persuade Iran to change course, but it has not before spelled out the level of evidence it would need to consider such measures.
U.S. President George W. Bush, meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington on Thursday, did not appear to have persuaded him to allow tougher steps in the Security Council. Hu repeated Beijing's calls for a negotiated solution.
Russia rejected on Friday a U.S. call for it to scrap a planned missile sale to Iran, a day after rebuffing Washington's suggestion that it halt work on Iran's first atomic power plant.
"There are no circumstances which would get in the way of us carrying out our commitments in the field of military cooperation with Iran," Nikolai Spassky, deputy head of Russia's National Security Council, was quoted by Tass as saying.
"That includes ... our commitment to supply Tor systems to Iran," he said, referring to tactical surface-to-air missiles.
Bush has vowed to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons and has refused to rule out military options if diplomacy fails.
If this is not the dead end of the diplomatic road, then at least you can see the flashing neon "Failure" sign from here.
Everyone has laid their cards on the table...Russia and China have chosen sides.....works for me.....lets roll. The entire world is waiting around for us to be the bad guy, so they can take a sigh of relief and still point the finger at us as the evil aggressor....lets not keep them waiting any longer.