Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that a European draft resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program would isolate Iran, suggesting that Moscow will not back the resolution in its current form, news agencies reported.
"We cannot support measures that in essence are aimed at isolating Iran from the outside world, including isolating people who are called upon to conduct negotiations on the nuclear program," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying.
Lavrov also reiterated his claim that the draft UN Security Council resolution -- meant to punish Iran for its persistent refusal to halt uranium enrichment activities that have heightened fears it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons -- goes beyond existing agreements among nations seeking to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"The draft ... goes far outside the framework of agreements," Interfax quoted him as saying.
The European draft orders all countries to prevent the sale and supply of material and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It orders countries to freeze the assets of companies and organizations involved in those programs, and also imposes a travel ban and freezes the assets of people involved -- a measure Lavrov appeared to be referring to in his remark suggesting it would hamper negotiators.
Interfax said Lavrov spoke in response to a question about whether Russia completely rejects the European draft or intends to seek changes.
"We will work on the text of the resolution," Lavrov said, adding that Russia would seek to focus the document on concrete aspects of Iran's program that the International Atomic Energy Agency has identified as possibly serious risks, including uranium enrichment and a heavy-water reactor, ITAR-Tass reported.
The text of the resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany was expected to be discussed this week at the UN.
While the US indicated it considers the draft too weak, Lavrov has signaled Russia's opposition and suggested it is too strong. Russia has not ruled out sanctions against Iran but repeatedly has warned that harsh measures could harden Tehran's defiance and scuttle chances for a negotiated end to the prolonged standoff over its nuclear program.
Moscow will seek to foster negotiations between Iran and the international community, Lavrov said.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members, consistently have been reluctant to support sanctions. Comments Tuesday by Russia's Security Council chief Igor Ivanov hinted that Russia could support sanctions as a way to push Tehran into talks, but also left plenty of room for wrangling in the council.
Speaking on Wednesday in Moscow, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who will take over as UN secretary-general on Jan. 1, urged Iran to halt uranium enrichment and accept an international offer of incentives in return, Interfax reported. Iran's rejection of the proposal prompted the moves toward punishment that could include sanctions.
Russia has strong commercial ties with Iran, and a Defense Ministry official told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow would fulfill a contract to supply air defense missiles to Iran unless Moscow backs international sanctions that would make it illegal.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov defended the US$700 million contract signed last December to sell 29 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran, saying they were purely defensive weapons with a limited range.