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Top Officials Critical of Iranian Move

Iran's decision to enrich uranium to higher levels has raised new doubts about Tehran's nuclear program and is testing the patience of the global community, senior officials said Tuesday.

The tough statements appeared to indicate that Russia is increasingly warming up to the U.S. push for a new set of international sanctions against Iran.

"Iran says it doesn't want to have nuclear weapons. But its actions, including its decision to enrich uranium to 20 percent, have raised doubts among other nations, and these doubts are quite well-founded," Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said in televised remarks.

World powers fear that the Iranian nuclear program might be a cover for building atomic weapons. Iran says the program is peaceful and aims to generate power for its growing population.

The United States and France said the Iranian announcement that it would enrich uranium to 20 percent left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of UN Security Council sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear defiance. Iran said Tuesday it had started enrichment under UN supervision.

The Foreign Ministry also criticized the Iranian move, saying it defies the UN Security Council resolutions and would "deepen doubts of the sincerity of Iran's intentions" to assuage international concerns about its nuclear program.

Patrushev urged Iran to cooperate more actively with the UN nuclear watchdog to ease the concerns about its enrichment effort. He also warned that there are limits to the world's patience regarding Iran's defiance.

"What matters is not whether or not sanctions will be imposed," Patrushev said. "What matters is to settle the process. Political and diplomatic methods are important in the settlement, but everything has its limit — and there are limits to patience."

Russia had opposed the U.S. push for new sanctions against Iran, but it has showed signs recently of edging closer to Washington on the issue.

Patrushev on Tuesday also pointed out that Israel, in particular, has refused to rule out the use of force against Iran.

"It's very important to avert a war," he said.

Russia has walked a fine line on Iran for years. It is one of the six powers leading efforts to ensure that Iran does not develop an atomic bomb. But it also has tried to maintain friendly ties with the Islamic Republic, a regional power close to Russia's vulnerable southern flank.

Russia has been building Iran's first nuclear power plant, whose launch has been repeatedly delayed and is now scheduled for some unspecified time this year.

The country's top military officer said Tuesday that U.S. missile defense plans are a threat to Russian national security and have slowed down progress on a new arms control treaty with Washington.

General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff, said a revised U.S. plan to place missiles in Central Europe undermines Russia's national defense, rejecting the Obama administration's promises that the plan is not directed at his country.

"We view it very negatively, because it could weaken our missile forces," Makarov said in televised remarks.

Makarov's comments are the strongest yet on the revamped U.S. effort and signal potential new obstacles to an agreement on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired Dec. 5.

The United States has insisted that the missile defense plans should be separate from talks to forge a new agreement on cutting the two nations' nuclear arsenals.

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