Russia has voiced rare “worry” over Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the European Union brought forward a meeting of foreign ministers to decide whether to impose a potentially crippling oil embargo.
The Kremlin, which generally opposes Western attempts to tighten United Nations sanctions, criticised Iran for starting to enrich uranium at up to 20 per cent purity inside a previously secret plant. This facility, located at Fordow near the city of Qom, is buried beneath a mountainside and could be invulnerable to military attack. A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said that Moscow has “with regret and worry received the news of the start of work on enriching uranium at the Iranian plant”. Iran only declared Fordow to the International Atomic Energy Agency after the facility was discovered by western intelligence agencies. Russia was also kept in the dark – a fact that damaged the Kremlin’s relations with Iran. However Tehran retains a firm ally in the shape of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who publicly mocked the west’s concerns about its nuclear ambitions on Tuesday.
Later this month, the EU is expected to maximise the economic pressure on Iran by agreeing an embargo on the country’s oil. A meeting of foreign ministers that will take this decision, previously scheduled for Jan 30, has been brought forward to Jan 23. An official said this was to avoid clashing with a summit of European heads of government and had nothing to do with the situation regarding Iran.
Nonetheless, no EU member state is believed to disagree with the principle of an oil embargo. The debate is solely about the practicalities of how to impose this measure.