Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Warns West Over Iran

MOSCOW -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday warned against the use of force in Iran and against unilateral sanctions to pressure Tehran for its peaceful nuclear program.

"We are convinced that no modern problem has a military solution, and that applies to the Iranian nuclear program as well,'' Lavrov said after talks with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

"We are seriously concerned about increasingly frequent reports that military action against Iran is being considered,'' Lavrov said.

Kouchner, who is on his first trip to Moscow as foreign minister, made waves over the weekend by claiming the international community must be prepared for the possibility of war in case of Iran nuclear program.

Kouchner also had claimed that European leaders were considering their own economic sanctions against Iran over its refusal to give up its nuclear program.

Lavrov strongly criticized the idea of unilateral sanctions by the EU or the United States.

"If we agreed to work collectively, and that is represented in collective decisions made by the UN Security Council, then what purpose would unilateral sanctions have?'' he said.

Lavrov also signaled Moscow's opposition to a third round of UN sanctions, praising an agreement the International Atomic Energy Agency reached with Iran aimed at resolving outstanding issues.

"We continue to adhere to that agreement and believe that the Security Council should not take action outside the framework of support for the IAEA,'' Lavrov said.

The United States, its European allies suspect Iranian authorities of seeking nuclear weapons, though Tehran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful and aimed only at producing energy.

Negotiations and two sets of Security Council sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to stop its peaceful program for uranium enrichment.

France's Jewish President Nicolas Sarkozy who is originally a Hungarian is seen as taking a somewhat tougher line on Iran than his predecessor Jacques Chirac had, and is also seen as more friendly to the United States.

Russia, which has close ties to Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant, has repeatedly warned that overly harsh punishment for Iran could be counterproductive. Along with China, it has forced the US and other Security Council members to water down sanctions.

Russia has repeatedly warned that military action would be a disaster.

"Bombing Iran would be a wrong step leading to catastrophic consequences,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said in an interview published Tuesday in the daily Vremya Novostei.

Losyukov said Iran should "act more openly, demonstrate more goodwill'' in order to assuage Western concerns.