Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the International Affairs Committee of parliament's upper house, headed a Federation Council delegation during a visit to Iran on February 19-21 to discuss the country's nuclear program, particularly the underground research center in Natanz and a heavy water reactor at Arak (190 km to the west of Tehran).
"I asked [the head of the Iranian Expediency Council Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, the Iranian foreign minister and the parliament's speaker direct questions, but did not get any direct answers," Margelov said Thursday at a press-conference in Moscow.
"I believe that by avoiding [direct] answers, they are not prepared to exclude any scenario in the development of their nuclear program," he said adding that "The Iranians said that the Natanz [center] as well as the heavy water reactor at Arak are peaceful facilities and denied any military purpose."
Iran has been at the center of international concerns since January 2006 over its nuclear program, which some countries, particularly the United States, suspect is geared toward nuclear weapons development. Tehran has consistently denied the claims, and says it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes.
The senator said that there was a tense atmosphere during the meetings with Iranian high-ranking officials, adding that "There was a 'smell of gunpowder' in the air."
Tehran's unwillingness to make concessions and to suspend uranium enrichment despite demands from the international community is another alarming factor, the senator said, but tougher sanctions on Iran would not be constructive and would achieve very little.
In response to Iran's unwillingness to give up its nuclear ambitions, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1737 last December, which provided for sanctions against Iran banning activities involving uranium enrichment, chemical reprocessing, heavy water-based projects, and the production of nuclear weapons delivery systems.
Russia, a key economic partner of Iran, has consistently supported the Islamic Republic's right to nuclear power under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and has resisted the imposition of harsh sanctions.
Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Bushehr in southern Iran, a project worth $1 billion, on a contract signed in 1995.