By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday laid out a "step-by-step" approach under which Iran could address questions about its nuclear program and be rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions.
The proposal, described by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after talks with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seeks to revive negotiations to put to rest Western suspicions that Iran may be seeking nuclear arms.
Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany, in Geneva in December and in Istanbul in January, failed to make headway on reining in Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful.
Lavrov said Russia had proposed a "phased" process in which Iran would take steps to address the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
"The response to each specific step of Iran would be followed by some reciprocal step, like freezing some sanctions and shortening the volume of sanctions," Lavrov said at a news conference with Clinton.
He acknowledged differences between the Russian and U.S. stances on the issue, describing it as "yet another example of the fact that there are problems on our agenda."
Clinton did not directly address a question on her views about easing sanctions in a phased approach but Washington has been resistant to this on the grounds that doing so would give up what leverage it has over Tehran.
"We are committed to our dual track of pressure and engagement and we want to explore with the Russians ways that we can perhaps pursue more effective engagement strategies," she said, adding that Russian and U.S. experts would discuss the issue.
The target is to hold the talks in Moscow the week of July 25, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iran has said it is willing to resume talks with the Security Council's permanent members and Germany, but its insistence that other countries recognize its right to enrich uranium is a major stumbling block, particularly for Western diplomats who see it as an unacceptable precondition.
Separately, the State Department said Clinton and Lavrov finalized agreements on several U.S.-Russia issues, including:
-- a pact to regulate adoptions after a U.S. woman rejected her adopted Russian son and sent him back to Russia alone in April, 2010; the State Department said the deal would "provide additional safeguards to better protect the welfare and interests of children and all parties involved in adoptions;"
-- a deal on issuing non-immigrant business, tourist, private and humanitarian visas to Russia, and on issuing business and tourist visas to the United States; under this agreement, business travelers and tourists would, as a rule, be granted multiple-entry visas valid for 36 months;
-- an agreement committing each country to dispose of at least 34 tonnes of excess weapon-grade plutonium; the combined amount, 68 metric tons, represents enough material for about 17,000 nuclear weapons; disposal of the material is expected to begin in 2018, the State Department said;
-- extending a 1994 pact for U.S. and Russian scientists to collaborate on researching the effects of radiation.