MOSCOW - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday the time had not yet come for more sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and praised what she said was Russia's help in tackling the issue.
Clinton, on her first visit to Russia since taking her post, quoted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying sanctions against Iran might be inevitable, adding:
But we are not at that point yet. That is not a conclusion we have reached. And we want to be very clear that it is our preference that Iran works with the international community...to fulfill its obligation on inspections.
Clinton generally played down differences with Moscow at a news conference held jointly with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Instead she spoke of cooperation with Moscow on a range of international issues including nuclear disarmament and missile defense as part of a so-called reset of relations proclaimed by U.S. President Barack Obama.
I feel very good about the so-called reset, she said.
State Department officials had said before the talks that Clinton would discuss with Moscow specific forms of pressure on Iran if it failed to keep promises not to pursue nuclear weapons but Clinton denied she had made any requests.
We did not ask for anything today. We reviewed the situation and where it stood, which I think was the appropriate timing for what this process entails, Clinton said.
Lavrov restated Russia's position that talk of sanctions against Iran at this stage was counter-productive because international efforts should be focused on diplomacy.
Iran agreed at a meeting with world powers in Geneva on October 1 to allow U.N. experts access to a newly disclosed uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom.
Officials called the talks constructive, but Clinton warned on Sunday the world would not wait forever for Iran to prove it was not building nuclear bombs.
U.S. 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 his predecessor George W. Bush.
But 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, missile defense and a nuclear arms reduction treaty.
Lavrov said considerable progress had been made by U.S. and Russian negotiators toward a new bilateral treaty cutting their stocks of strategic nuclear weapons.
Both sides are working to a deadline of December for concluding a new treaty to replace the landmark Cold War-era START pact.
On missile defense, 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.
But he was non-committal on U.S. proposals the two sides cooperate on missile defense.
We want to know what are these plans, what they provide for, how the concept will function, he said. The more we know about this concept, the sooner we will come to understanding of whether we can work jointly on a project.
Some Russian officials, including Moscow's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, have suggested Obama's new missile defense plan involving sea-based and mobile missiles could pose an even stronger security threat to Moscow.
Russian officials say Moscow's concerns would only be addressed if it became an equal partner in any European anti-missile system.
(Additional reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Matthew Jones)