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Russia alarmed over Iran dispute amid reports US mulls attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister today expressed alarm that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program is escalating amid reports the US may carry out an assault on the Islamic Republic.

„We are concerned that forecasts and suppositions of a possible attack on Iran have become more frequent,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin during a Cabinet meeting today, in remarks broadcast on state television. Lavrov cited US Vice President Dick Cheney's February 24 comments that „all options are still on the table” to halt Iran's nuclear development. „What strikes are you talking about, without sanctions from the UN Security Council?” Putin asked Lavrov at the meeting in his residence outside of Moscow.
Russia, a supplier of nuclear technology to Iran, on December 23 backed a United Nations Security Council resolution to impose limited sanctions on the oil-rich country over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Further penalties are being discussed by the council's permanent members. US forces have taken part in clandestine operations against Iran, and the Pentagon is putting together plans for a bombing campaign against the Islamic Republic that could be implemented within 24 hours of a presidential order, journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in the latest edition of New Yorker magazine, citing a former US intelligence official. Cheney is among the key officials behind the policy, Hersh said.

Putin on February 10 said that US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were eroding global security. Tensions between the US and Iran have been exacerbated by the Bush administration's allegation that Iran is providing weapons for use by Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias in attacks on US forces. „It's absolutely obvious that the American political elite is split on the Iran problem,” Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia's upper house, was cited as saying by Interfax.
„The voices of those claiming that America in Iraq is suffering the third defeat in a row in the Islamic world, after Somalia and Afghanistan, have sounded increasingly louder of late.” The US and some allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is a cover for weapons development. Iran says its program is designed to fuel power stations, as allowed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Iranian leadership's failure to „give satisfactory answers” to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency has added to the problem, Interfax cited Lavrov as telling Putin at the meeting.
The IAEA said Iran hadn't complied with a UN demand that it suspend uranium enrichment by February 23. The Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany are meeting in London today to discuss a resolution that would impose further penalties on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. (Bloomberg)