Russia yesterday warned the West against imposing new sanctions against Iran, saying they would “stifle” the Iranian economy and hurt the population.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said sanctions on oil exports considered by the EU could stymie efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear standoff through talks.
“It has nothing to do with a desire to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation,” he said at a press conference. “It’s aimed at stifling the Iranian economy and the population in an apparent hope to provoke discontent.”
Russia has walked a fine line on the Iranian nuclear crisis, mixing careful criticism of Iran, an important trading partner, with praise for some of its moves and calls for more talks.
The EU is weighing whether to impose sanctions on buying Iranian oil, which is the source of more than 80 percent of Tehran’s foreign revenue.
The US has already imposed new sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and, by extension, refiners’ ability to buy and pay for crude.
The sanctions are linked to Iran’s disputed uranium enrichment program, which the US and its allies suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges, saying its program is aimed at civilian power generation and research.
Moscow, which built Iran’s first nuclear power plant, backed some of the previous UN sanctions against Iran, but in recent months it has firmly rejected imposing any new sanctions and has called for dialogue.
Russia believes that “all thinkable sanctions already have been applied” and that new penalties could derail hopes for continuing six-way negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program, provoking Iranian intransigence, Lavrov said.
He said that the EU’s consideration of new sanctions comes as Iran plans to host a delegation from the UN nuclear watchdog.
“We believe that there is every chance to resume talks between the six powers and Iran, and we are concerned about obstacles being put to them,” he said. “The sanctions could hardly help make the talks productive.”
Meanwhile, Israel says it was “very far off” from deciding on whether to launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not specify when such a decision might be made in an interview yesterday with Army Radio.
He also denied Israeli media speculation that Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, would use a visit to Israel today to pressure Israel not to attack.