MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia defied Western pressure to toughen its stance over Iran’s nuclear program on Wednesday, days before President Vladimir Putin has talks in Tehran and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Moscow.
Western powers suspect Iran is running a secret nuclear bomb-making program and are pushing hard for a new round of international sanctions. Russia could uses its veto powers in the United Nations Security Council to block such moves.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying it would be “irresponsible” to make any sudden moves on Iran until the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, had completed its negotiations with Tehran.
Earlier on Wednesday, Putin underlined the differences between Russia and the West by saying after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Moscow that he had no evidence Iran was trying to build a nuclear bomb.
He said Moscow would cooperate on the issue within the U.N. — apparently sticking to an established Russian stance that rules out new sanctions in the near future and any punitive action against Iran outside the U.N. framework.
“Until the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports on what is going on in Iran, until we receive these answers, it would be irresponsible to make any sharp movements,” Lavrov was quoted by RIA as saying.
“When we hear calls to use force against Iran, which has fallen foul of IAEA rules, then we question what this could lead to,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.
Putin will be in Tehran early next week to attend a conference of states bordering the Caspian Sea. He is expected to meet Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Western lobbying of Russia over Iran could continue later this week when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrive in Moscow for talks on security and arms control issues.
Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapon and says it wants nuclear technology exclusively to generate power. The United States, leading the drive for action against Iran, says it wants a diplomatic solution but has not ruled out a military strike.
Speaking at a joint Kremlin news briefing with Sarkozy, Putin said: “We proceed from the position that Iran has no such plans (to acquire a nuclear weapon) but we share the concerns of our partners that all Iran’s programs should be as transparent as possible.”
“We are working in cooperation with our partners in the United Nations Security Council and intend to keep working in cooperation with them in the future.”
Sarkozy, a vocal critic among the Western leaders pressing for further sanctions on Iran, said he and Putin had been able to narrow their differences on the issue, but he did not specify in what way.
“I believe there is a certain convergence of our opinions,” he told reporters at the joint news conference with Putin.
“What Mr Putin has just said is important. A few days before his visit to Tehran, to say that he is cooperating, that he wants to continue cooperating, is important.”
He added: “This is something that concerns the entire planet.”