by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) July 14, 2010
Russian companies are ready to supply fuel to energy-hungry Iran, despite unilateral US and EU sanctions targeting Tehran's oil and gas sectors, the Russian energy minister said on Wednesday.
The pledge came amid a period of tension between Russia and Iran unprecedented in the last two decades, compounded this week by President Dmitry Medvedev's statement that Tehran was nearing the potential to build an atomic bomb.
"Russian companies are prepared to deliver oil products to Iran. The possibility of delivering oil products to Iran exists, if there is a commercial interest," said Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko.
Russia has already expressed its dissatisfaction with the sanction measures agreed last month by the United States and the European Union to punish Iran for its defiance in the nuclear standoff.
These go beyond the new UN sanctions that were agreed by Russia and other world powers which mainly target military-related industries.
"Sanctions cannot hinder us," Shmatko said after a meeting in Moscow with Iranian Oil Minister Massoud Mir Kazemi, quoted by Russian news agencies.
The two ministers also signed a joint declaration boosting cooperation in energy that envisages Moscow and Tehran creating a "roadmap" to plan out their future oil and gas cooperation.
The declaration says that the two sides will also consider the creation of a joint bank to finance oil and gas projects as well as the founding of other joint energy ventures.
Iran, which holds around 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, is the world's fourth-biggest oil exporter and the second-largest producer in the oil cartel OPEC after Saudi Arabia.
However a lack of refining capacity and inefficiency problems means Iran has to import vast volumes of petrol from a variety of sources in order to satisfy domestic demand.
According to Russian news agencies, Mir Kazemi declared that sanctions "will in no way have an effect on the economic and industrial development of Iran. Independent countries are truly cooperating with Iran."
Russia has traditionally been seen as a close political and economic ally of the Islamic Republic, but Medvedev's recent hardening of the Russian line on the Iranian nuclear drive has deeply irritated Tehran.
His comment that Iran was nearing nuclear weapons capacity prompted an angry reaction from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who rejected the remarks as "totally false".
The sanctions signed into law by US President Barack Obama effectively shut US markets to any firms that provide Iran with refined petroleum products.
EU leaders have agreed sanctions banning new investment, technical assistance and technology transfers to Iran's gas and oil industries. The details are to be approved at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on July 26.
earlier related report
The EU's chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said Wednesday she was ready to pick a time and place to revive negotiations, her office said. Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday that talks could begin in September.
The breakthrough came after Ashton wrote to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
"I am glad to hear that you would be prepared to restart dialogue," Ashton wrote.
Ashton, who represents six world powers in the negotiations, said "issues relating to the Iranian nuclear programme must be the focus of our talks, though other subjects ... could also be raised."
She suggested that the two sides "should discuss the time and venue for our meeting."
Ashton's spokesman told AFP the European Union's high representative hopes the talks can restart "as soon as possible, potentially in the autumn."
In Lisbon, Mottaki confirmed the report from the Iranian side.
"We foresee the month of September, after the month of Ramadan," Mottaki said, referring to the holy Islamic fasting month.
"We have always welcomed and backed negotiations."
The last high-level talks between Iran and the six -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- were held in Geneva in October 2009 when the two sides agreed a nuclear fuel swap that has since stalled.
Western powers have demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment programme, fearing that Tehran would use the material to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran insists that its atomic programme is a peaceful drive to produce energy.
Ashton had written to Jalili in mid-June to request a resumption of negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany after the UN imposed new sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian official wrote back on July 6 that Tehran was ready to resume talks from September 1 should a number of conditions be met.
Jalili said the six must answer whether the talks were aimed at "engagement and cooperation or continued confrontation and hostility towards Iranians."
Ashton had yet to respond to Jalili's missive until she sent her new letter, which was dated July 8 but was sent to Tehran late Tuesday.
"Our aim has always been achieving a comprehensive and long-term settlement which would restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme, while respecting Iran's legitimate rights to the peaceful use of nuclear energy," Ashton wrote.
"This reflects a genuine wish on the part of all of the six countries I represent for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Iran," she added.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on June 28 that he was freezing nuclear talks for two months in retaliation for a fourth set of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council three weeks earlier.
The United States and the European Union, seeking to pile pressure on Tehran, later decided to impose their own punitive measures against Iran, targetting the country's key oil and gas sectors.
US President Barack Obama signed the tough US sanctions into law on July 1. EU foreign ministers will finalise the bloc's sanctions at July 26 meeting.
In a sign of the growing impatience among world powers, Russia, traditionally a diplomatic and economic ally of the Islamic republic, has hardened its position regarding Iran.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Iran was close to having the potential to build a nuclear weapon, the clearest indication yet of Russian alarm over Tehran's atomic drive.
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