* IAEA report expected to strengthen suspicions about Iran
* Russia believed to be concerned it could hurt diplomacy
* Iran rejects Western allegations it seeks atomic bombs
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Russia fears a U.N. report which
is expected to heighten suspicions about Iran's atomic ambitions
could undermine Moscow's initiative to help resolve a nuclear
dispute with Tehran, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.
Russia's concern about the timing of the U.N. report, due
next month, contrasts with the hopes of Western states that the
document will strengthen their case to step up pressure on the
Islamic state over its nuclear programme.
Western powers fear Iran is using its nuclear programme to
develop atomic weapons. Iran says it needs to refine uranium for
a planned network of nuclear power plants.
Russia's concerns may be a sign of differences among the six
major powers involved in the search for a diplomatic solution to
the nuclear row -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain,
France and Germany -- on how to best approach the Iran issue.
Russia, which has commercial and other links with Iran, has
proposed a step-by-step diplomatic effort to defuse the nuclear
standoff but Western diplomats have given the plan a cool
Moscow and Beijing have backed four rounds of U.N. sanctions
on Iran since 2006 over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear
work that could have both civilian and military uses.
But they criticised the United States and the European Union
last year for taking additional unilateral steps against the
major oil producer and it is uncertain whether they would back
any new Western sanctions push at the United Nations.
"I think it is unlikely that Russia and China will consent
to a new round of crippling sanctions before negotiations are
given another chance," said Ali Vaez of the Federation of
American Scientists, a Washington-based think tank.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear
watchdog, is expected in its report to spell out in detail why
it said last month that it is "increasingly concerned" that Iran
may be seeking to develop nuclear missiles.
Diplomats say IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano may stop
short of explicitly declaring whether he believes Iran has been
working on a nuclear weapons programme, as Tehran's Western
adversaries would want him to.
"We think the IAEA has a lot of information that would allow
the agency to come to clear findings on the issue of possible
military dimensions," one Western official said.
Vienna-based diplomats stressed that the report was still
being drafted by IAEA experts and the wording could change.
Two diplomats said they believed Russia was concerned that a
strongly worded document would further sour the atmosphere with
Iran and therefore damage the chances of Moscow's diplomatic
plan to succeed.
They suggested Russia was mainly worried about the timing of
the report's publication, rather than about its content.
Russia's mission in Vienna was not immediately available for
Since negotiations between the powers and Iran foundered in
January, Russia has advocated a phased plan in which Tehran
would address concerns that it may be seeking nuclear weapons,
and be rewarded with an easing of sanctions.
The proposal, described by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov in July in Washington, seeks to revive negotiations to
put to rest suspicions that Iran may be seeking nuclear arms.
Talks between Iran and the six powers in Geneva in December
and in Istanbul in January failed to make headway on reining in
Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran has said it is willing to resume discussions, but its
insistence that other countries recognize its right to enrich
uranium is a major stumbling block, particularly for Western
diplomats who see it as an unacceptable precondition.
Western diplomats have raised doubts about the Russian
plan's ability to defuse the long-running row and also noted
that Tehran has yet to give a clear answer to Moscow.
"The Russian proposal does not appear to fly. I can't see
any movement on the nuclear issue," said a senior diplomat based
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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