MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to win specific pledges from Moscow on tougher sanctions against Iran during a visit to Russia on Tuesday but hailed progress in other areas such as arms control.
A senior U.S. official had said before the talks that Clinton wanted to know “what specific forms of pressure Russia would be prepared to join us and our other allies in” if Iran did not keep promises to the international community not to pursue nuclear weapons.
But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov restated at a news conference with Clinton Russia’s position that any talk of sanctions against Iran at this stage was counter-productive.
“All forces should be aimed at supporting talks,” he said.
A U.S. official later told reporters of the Russian side: “They said they weren’t ready in this context to talk specifically about what steps they would be willing to take.”
The Russian side preferred to discuss any possible moves against Iran in the context of the United Nations, the official added, speaking on condition he was not identified.
Clinton praised “very comprehensive and productive” discussions with Lavrov, saying they were further evidence of the “reset” in formerly rocky U.S.-Russia relations.
“I feel very good about the so-called reset,” she said.
Clinton insisted at the news conference she had not sought specific commitments from Moscow on Iran.
“We did not ask for anything today,” she said. “We reviewed the situation and where it stood, which I think was the appropriate timing for what this process entails.”
Clinton, on her first visit to Russia since taking her post, quoted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying sanctions against Iran might be inevitable.
A U.S. official later told reporters Medvedev had told her he expected Iran to implement its promises on its nuclear programme and if it did not “there should be sanctions.”
“That was a clear statement of the Russian position that we found reassuring,” the senior State Department official said.
Medvedev has previously made it clear Moscow is ready to back further sanctions against the Islamic Republic unless it changes course on its nuclear programme, despite Russia’s general reluctance to support such punitive measures.
Lavrov said “considerable progress” had been made by U.S. and Russian negotiators towards a new bilateral treaty cutting their stocks of strategic nuclear weapons.
They are working to a deadline of December for concluding a treaty to replace the Cold War-era START pact.
Clinton did not address sensitive issues such as human rights and democracy at the news conference but met rights activists and opposition journalists privately at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.
Clinton told them, in a reference to killings of Russian journalists and rights activists:
“A society cannot be truly open when those who stand up and speak out are murdered. And people cannot trust in the rule of law when killers act with impunity.”
At a Boeing design centre later she said the United States linked human rights with economic growth. She also said there was “reason to hope” Boeing would get a contract to build aircraft for Russia’s new state-run airline.
Clinton met Medvedev at his Barvikha residence outside Moscow, where the president praised U.S.-Russian efforts to broker a peace deal between Turkey and Armenia as “a good example of our cooperation.”
But Clinton did not see the man most diplomats, analysts and ordinary Russians consider the true ruler of Russia -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin is on a visit to China.
President Barack Obama’s decision to scrap plans for an anti-missile system located in eastern Europe has helped improve ties with Moscow after stormy relations under George W. Bush.
Diplomats say that in return, the United States now wants better Russian cooperation on an array of foreign policy issues such as the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Iran, missile defence and the nuclear arms reduction treaty.
On missile defence, Lavrov said Russia had listened to U.S. plans for a new anti-missile system to replace the Bush-era plan for fixed radars and anti-missile batteries in central Europe which had upset the Kremlin.
He was non-committal on U.S. proposals the two sides cooperate on missile defence.
“The more we know about this concept, the sooner we will come to an understanding of whether we can work jointly on a project,” he said.
Additional reporting by Conor Sweeney