Russia rejects Iran sanctions despite UN findings

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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 trade partner's diplomatic isolation came a 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 release saw France and Britain join a US call for much stronger punishments and drew another stark warning from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Russia vented immediate fury with the report's publication and on Wednesday dismissed its findings as a "compilation of well-known facts that are intentionally presented in a politicised manner."

"It juggles information in order to form an impression that the Iranian nuclear programme has a military component," the Russian foreign ministry said.

One of Moscow's most senior diplomats meanwhile said further sanctions could only be viewed as an effort by Western powers to topple Iran's current regime.

"Any additional sanctions against Iran will be interpreted by the international community as a means of changing the regime in Tehran," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady 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 or simply abstain from a possible vote.

Russia had previously given grudging backing to 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 its sworn enemy because of its enrichment and research activities.

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 awaiting formal approval from Iran.

But Russia argues that hopes for dialogue will be permanently lost should the UN impose tougher sanctions and on Wednesday hosted another urgent round of meetings with Iran's 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.

Russia's deputy foreign minister meanwhile stressed that Russia believes the ban on weapons and other sensitive technology sales approved by the Security Council in June 2010 were sufficient for current security needs.

"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

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