MOSCOW, Oct 15: Russia and the United States feuded openly on Saturday over Iran’s nuclear programme, with Moscow defending Tehran’s right to enrich uranium for atomic energy while visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran could not be trusted with the process.

Speaking to reporters after discussing the issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Rice staked out starkly differing positions on the specific question of whether the Islamic republic should be allowed to enrich uranium for any purpose.

“All members of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have this right,” Mr Lavrov stated, adding that Russia had seen no evidence to support US claims that Iran sought to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.

Ms Rice retorted: “It is not a question of rights... the NPT doesn’t come only with rights but also with obligations. This is not an issue of rights but of whether or not the fuel cycle can be trusted in Iran.”

While their comments only reiterated the well-known and differing positions of Russia and the United States on the Iran nuclear question, the spectacle of Mr Lavrov and Ms Rice arguing over the specific point of the enrichment process was an unusual occurrence and underscored their split.

Following her talks with Mr Lavrov, and before leaving Russia for London and talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ms Rice travelled outside Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin at his official country residence.

The Russian leader evoked Ms Rice’s trip earlier in the week through Central Asia, a region where Moscow and Washington are jockeying for influence.

“I would like to congratulate you on the results of your trip to Central Asia, and I know this trip was very successful,” Mr Putin told Ms Rice.

With a subtle twist of diplomatic irony, Mr Putin added: “If you could kindly tell us about the results of your trip in greater detail, we would appreciate that.”

Ms Rice said the United States felt it had a strong partnership with Russia which allowed the two countries to “get together so frequently and talk on a whole range of issues before us.”—AFP

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