Is Russia about to break ranks?
We always knew they were a weak link...but this is still disturbing.
Western countries were alarmed last night by signs that Russia was ready to break ranks and agree to Iran's demand to continue nuclear "research and development", fearing that this would make it easier for Teheran to develop nuclear weapons.
Briefed about the latest Russian proposals, Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expressed the hope that a compromise could be reached "in the next week or so".
But Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, was expected to deliver a firm rejection of the Kremlin's blueprint at a meeting in Washington with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov last night.
"He is going to get a strong response from the Americans," said one western source. "The Russians are testing the waters and are desperate for a deal. But any kind of research or development will allow the Iranians to take significant steps towards mastering the technology."
The row threatens to undermine the fragile international unity reached last month, when America, Russia, China and European countries agreed that Iran should be reported to the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme.
Diplomats said that the UN might start discussing the issue next week. But the apparent change of heart by Moscow, which is a vital trading partner of Iran and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, greatly complicates the strategy.