Russia's parliament adopted a statement Wednesday condemning the policy pursued by the authorities in Georgia as "anti-Russian" and "anti-democratic" after four Russian officers were arrested and charged with espionage last week. They were released Monday but Russian ministers and politicians have continued to use tough language with regard to Tbilisi.
And Sergei Lavrov, on a working visit to the Polish capital, called on Georgia to abandon the policy. "It will resolve all the existing problems [in bilateral relations]," he said.
Russia cut transportation, postal and financial links with Georgia, declining to specify how long they would remain in force, in response to the "spying" crisis and has sought to close down what it calls illegal channels of funding for Georgia. At least three casinos have been shut in Moscow for allegedly maintaining links with the Georgian mafia.
The minister also made something of a departure for Russian foreign policy when speaking about Iran's controversial nuclear programs, which some countries have suggested are a cover for weapons project rather than an electricity-production plan.
Negotiations between the six mediators on Iran - France, Germany, the United States, Russia, China and Britain - have stalled over Iran's failure to meet the UN Security Council's August 31 deadline for suspending its nuclear activities.
And Lavrov, who has previously defended the Islamic Republic's right to pursue atomic research, said Russia was worried about the lack of a consistent reply from Tehran on the nuclear program issue.
"We are concerned that Tehran has provided no satisfactory answer on its nuclear program," Lavrov said, referring to a reply to the Iran Six package of incentives submitted to Iran in June and aimed to defuse the situation around the nuclear program.
Russia is one of the countries that have invested heavily in Iran's energy and is building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr, 250 miles southwest of Tehran, under a $1 billion contract signed in 1995. The plant is to be commissioned in November 2007.
Russia is also supplying Iran with air defense systems. At the end of 2005, Russia signed a $700-million contract on supplies of 29 Tor M1 air defense systems to Iran. Despite strong criticism from the United States, Russia has maintained that the systems could be used only to protect Iranian air space.
But if it remains defiant, Iran, which has the second largest reserves within OPEC cartel, may be faced with international sanctions.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday, however, that no sanctions would stop Iran from enriching uranium - part of the nuclear cycle that can be used both for generating power and making the bomb.
In mid-September, negotiations between the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani brought no progress in the dispute.
Tehran, which has said it could still suspend enrichment activities and has asked for more talks, secured support for its case from the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement. The countries passed a declaration at a summit in Cuba in mid-September, proposed by Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Syria, acknowledging Iran's and other countries' right to conduct nuclear research and use nuclear energy for civilian needs.
In another attempt to secure a resolution to Iran's issue, the Iran Six group will possibly meet in London Friday to discuss the crisis around Iran's nuclear ambitions, although the British Foreign Office is yet to confirm this.
Lavrov said the upcoming meeting in London would be guided by the agreements reached within the group of six mediators. "But we will also look for additional opportunities to continue multilateral diplomatic efforts," Lavrov said.
The Russian minister, however, warned that additional pressure could be put on Iran.
"We admit the possibility of additional pressure on Iran, but this pressure must be aimed to begin negotiations and achieve agreements that could ensure non-proliferation," he said.
The United States has pressed for sanctions against Iran. However, Russia and China, who have a veto-wielding authority in the UN Security Council, said they opposed the sanctions.
"We will not back any other, ulterior objectives in relation to Iran," Lavrov said.
The U.S., however, has started to move on the issue, and on October 1 President George W. Bush signed Iran Freedom Support Act, which extended sanctions against countries maintaining energy cooperation with Iran and supplying weapons to the Islamic Republic.
Lavrov said the new U.S. law only made it more difficult for the international community to agree a collective approach to Iran's problem.
With the world anxiously waiting for news from North Korea about nuclear tests it says it intends to carry out, the minister said Russia, which shares a border with the secretive state, was trying to convince it to abandon the tests.
Pyongyang announced Wednesday that it may soon resume nuclear tests.
"We are working directly with the government of North Korea to defuse the situation, to persuade North Korea to refrain from any steps that would escalate the situation," Lavrov said.
In early July, North Korea conducted test launches of ballistic missiles, including of a long-range Taepodong-2. Even though the tests were a failure, many countries interpreted them as an attempt to force the international community, especially the United States, to make concessions over the six-nation nuclear talks, involving North and South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the U.S.
On Wednesday, Sergei Ivanov, Russia's defense minister and a deputy prime minister, also urged North Korea to exercise restraint in its plans to conduct a nuclear test.
"I am counting on the North Korean leadership to demonstrate restraint, caution and responsibility on this issue," Ivanov said. "[Nuclear] tests could inflict ecological damage on Russia."
North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and in February 2005 announced it had nuclear weapons. Some experts, however, have questioned that claim.
The six-nation talks, aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its controversial nuclear program, opened in 2003, but stalled last November. Mediators proposed building a nuclear reactor for North Korea if it abandoned its nuclear program, but Pyongyang said it wants the reactor first and will then give up its nuclear research.
At the latest round of talks in September, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees, but later refused to return to the negotiating table until Washington lifts financial sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its alleged involvement in counterfeiting and other illegal activities.
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