MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Russia on Friday rejected any talk for now of sanctions against Iran and France warned against conflict with Tehran, raising doubt whether it will face swift penalties for not halting nuclear work by an Aug. 31 deadline.
Responding to an offer of economic incentives to stop enriching uranium, Iran hinted to six world powers on Tuesday it could curb its programme as a result of talks to implement the package — but not as a precondition as they demand.
The reply seemed designed to crack the ramshackle united front of four Western powers and Russia and China behind the U.N. Security Council deadline. The West sees Iran’s nuclear work as a looming threat to peace. Russia and China do not.
“I know of no instances in world practice and previous experience in which sanctions have achieved their aim and proved effective,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters during a trip to Russia’s far east.
“Moreover, I believe that the question is not so serious at the moment for the U.N. Security Council or the group of six to consider any introduction of sanctions. Russia stands for further political and diplomatic efforts to settle the issue.”
Ivanov is regarded as close to President Vladimir Putin.
The Security Council passed a legally binding resolution on July 31 telling Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme within 30 days or risk sanctions.
Iran says it is enriching uranium solely to generate electricity. The West suspects the Iranian nuclear programme is a front for building atom bombs.
U.S., French and German leaders said that Iran’s 21-page response to the incentives offer was unsatisfactory because it did not specifically agree to stop purifying uranium.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Friday that Tehran’s reply had touched on “many different elements, different from the ones that we had proposed”.
“For that reason we will have to hold a dialogue session … or a conversation with the … Iranians to improve upon some of the expressions and meanings of the subject matter treated in its document,” he told Spain’s RNE state radio.
But while Washington, backed by closest ally Britain, has said the six powers will move quickly to adopt sanctions if Iran disregards the deadline, Germany and France have been less conclusive in public and Russia and China have been unwilling.
“For the moment, it (the Iranian response) is not satisfactory,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on RTL radio, but added it was important to avoid escalating conflict with Iran and the Muslim world.
“The worst thing would be to escalate into a confrontation (between the West and) Iran on the one hand, and the Muslim world with Iran…,” he said.
“I’m starting from the principle we should have a dialogue with the Iranians, that we must hold out our hands to them.”
U.S. and British forces that overthrew Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003 are now mired in an Islamist insurgency while Israel and Lebanon’s Hizbollah guerrillas recently waged an inconclusive war. Both conflicts are widely seen to have strengthened Iran.
Bloodshed between Israel and Palestinians under an Islamist Hamas government also festers on without a solution in sight.
Some analysts believe that widespread anger in the Arab and Muslim worlds over Washington’s perceived slowness to push Israel into a ceasefire with Hizbollah could erode support in the 15-member Security Council for a showdown with Iran.
“The strongest motivation to give talks a chance seems to be the international community’s lack of appetite for a fourth conflict in the Middle East,” said Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based Iranian author and commentator.
Russia, which is building Iran’s first nuclear power plant, has traditionally argued that sanctions would not work.
Russia and China, also long averse to sanctions as a policy tool, have major energy and investment stakes with Iran and could veto sanctions in the Security Council.
Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia’s stance seemed to contradict the intention of the Council resolution but most diplomatic players remained keen to find a palatable alternative to sanctions.
“I’m sure there will be high-level talks on whether there is some formula regarding sequencing of suspension” based on Iran’s hint it could shelve enrichment as the upshot of talks to carry out the incentives, he said.
“The question is whether there is a basis to fudge the sequencing — that is, Iran commits to suspension after a very short time period of negotiations. I don’t know if that would be enough for (the West).”