Russia rules out backing Iran sanctions despite UN findings
Russia on Wednesday ruled out backing new sanctions against Iran and held urgent consultations with its ally after the publication of the most damning report to date from the UN nuclear watchdog.
Moscow's attempt to relieve its close trade partner's growing diplomatic isolation came one day after the IAEA agency went ahead with the publication of an unprecedented report on Iran that both China and Russia reportedly wanted to suppress.
The UN agency disclosed finding "credible" intelligence showing the Islamic state's interest in nuclear weapons -- the first time it has so openly supported claims initially raised by Israel and the United States.
The report saw France and Britain join a US call for much stronger punishments and drew another stark warning from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Russia had previously condemned the findings' publication as an effort by the West to justify potential military action. But it has also carefully avoided saying anything about the contents of the massive document directly.
The foreign ministry said on Tuesday it would take time going through its details before issuing a formal conclusion on whether the data collected by UN nuclear programme inspectors was persuasive.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov made clear that Moscow would resist the tougher sanctions no matter what the UN report said.
"Any additional sanctions against Iran will be interpreted by the international community as a means of changing the regime in Tehran," Gatilov told Interfax.
"This approach is unacceptable to us, and Russia does not intend to review this proposal," he said without specifying whether Moscow would actually veto further sanctions.
Russia has previously backed four rounds of UN Security Council restrictions on Iran while resisting the most crippling measures that could directly impact the two sides' military and energy ties.
It also condemned Israel for warning over the weekend that it was getting closer to launching a military strike on Iran for its suspected efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called this "extremely dangerous rhetoric."
Moscow's most recent bid to ease the nuclear standoff involved a "step-by-step" solution that it suggested to Iran with much fanfare this summer.
The plan proposes easing existing sanctions in response to greater transparency from Tehran -- a measure treated with suspicion by US officials and one still waiting formal approval from Iran.
But Russia argues that hopes for dialogue will be permanently lost should the UN impose tougher sanctions.
It also accuses the West of adopting a dangerous position in the region that could lead to war and said it held constructive talks in Moscow with Iran's visiting number two nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri.
"The Russian side underscored ... that conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa should be resolved through a peaceful political process and without outside intervention," the foreign ministry said after the talks.
Bagheri also met with the head of Russia's security council and was due to brief reporters in Moscow on Thursday at 1130 GMT.
The senior Russia diplomat meanwhile stressed that Russia would not accept anything more stringent than the last round of sanctions approved by the UN Security Council in June 2010.
"Whatever is proposed to the Security Council outside the frameworks of this resolution has nothing to do with strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime," Gatilov said.
© 2011 AFP