Iran Looms Over Hillary Clinton’s Trip to Europe, Russia

By Matthew Lee | October 9, 2009 | 5:59 AM EDT
Washington (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is planning to press for a strong commitment from Russia for the possible use of tough new sanctions on Iran when she visits Moscow next week at the end of a European tour.
U.S. officials said Iran will be at or near the top of Clinton's agenda when she meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday in Moscow. Clinton, who departs on her five-day journey late Friday, will make stops in Switzerland, Britain and Ireland before heading to Russia.
Russia and China have long balked at imposing new sanctions on Iran if it fails to come clean about its suspect nuclear program, but Medvedev hinted the Russian position might be shifting after Tehran disclosed a previously secret uranium enrichment site near the holy city of Qom.
But despite recent suggestions from Medvedev that Moscow's position may ease, U.S. officials believe it will be a hard sell to convince the Russians on fresh penalties. That's particularly after Iran agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to visit the Qom site on Oct. 25 and has agreed, in principle, to send most of its low-enriched uranium to Russia for reprocessing.
Iran agreed to allow inspections of the Qom site following six-nation talks between Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and diplomats from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany last week. The Iranians were given time to decide whether to accept a package of incentives from the six-nation group in exchange for Iran's compliance with international demands to suspend its uranium enrichment or face new sanctions.
The Obama administration is anxious not to let up on the pressure and Clinton will be looking for Russian expressions of support for sanctions and other penalties should Iran continue to refuse by the end of the year, the officials said.
"Iran has not bought an indefinite delay and we want them to know that," said one official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Clinton's talks.
In addition to Iran, Clinton will bring a wide array of other issues to Moscow, including arms control, missile defense and cooperation on convincing North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, the officials said.
Negotiators from the two countries are racing to reach agreement on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, before it expires on Dec. 5 and Clinton wants to underscore the urgency of the talks, they said.
She also will explore possible cooperation on missile defense following President Barack Obama's decision not to proceed with Bush-administration plans to base such a system in eastern Europe. Russia had vehemently opposed those plans and has welcomed Obama's new approach.
Clinton will also join Lavrov in chairing a meeting of a commission set up by Obama and Medvedev to improve cooperation and coordination on a variety of matters, including Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the U.S. welcomed the inaugural flight of a U.S. plane carrying lethal materiel to Afghanistan through Russian airspace under a July agreement.
After Moscow, Clinton plans to visit Kazan, the capital of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, to demonstrate U.S. support for a moderate Islamic entity as it looks to ease anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world, which has been exacerbated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is likely to dominate Clinton's Sunday visit to London, where support for military operations in the country has waned in recent months amid rising violence and allegations of major fraud in the Afghan national elections in August. Clinton will see British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
In Dublin and Belfast, both of which she visited while she was first lady, Clinton will be pushing to break a deadlock between Northern Ireland's rival Catholic and Protestant leaders over transferring responsibility for Northern Ireland's justice system from British to local hands.
Tension is running high over the British Protestant majority's blocking of those plans and threatening the power-sharing government, the central pillar of Northern Ireland peacemaking that Clinton has championed as a major success of her husband's administration.
Clinton begins her trip in Zurich, Switzerland on Saturday where she will witness the signing of a historic pact between Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations after a century of conflict.
U.S. officials said Iran will be at or near the top of Clinton's agenda when she meets Russian leaders on Tuesday in Moscow. Clinton, who departs on her five-day journey late Friday, will make stops in Switzerland, Britain and Ireland before heading