Russia: New sanctions against Iran too stifling (updated)

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Jan. 18, 2012, 10:19 a.m. |

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© AP

MOSCOW (AP) —A military attack on Iran would trigger a "chain reaction" that destabilizes the world, while new sanctions against Tehran would "stifle" the Iranian economy and hurt its people, Russia's foreign minister warned Wednesday. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia is "seriously worried" about the prospect of a military action against Iran and is doing all it can to prevent it.

"The consequences will be extremely grave," he said at a news conference. "It's not going to be an easy walk. It will trigger a chain reaction and I don't know where it will stop."

Lavrov said an attack on Iran would send refugees streaming into its Caspian Sea neighbor Azerbaijan and further on to Russia.

"But that is just one and not the main part of the problem," he said. "It's impossible to predict all the consequences. I have no doubt that it will add fuel to the smoldering confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites."

The Sunni Arab states in the Gulf like Saudi Arabia are close U.S. allies, locked in decades-old rivalries with Iran's Shiite-led Islamic Republic.

Lavrov also warned that sanctions on Iranian oil exports now being considered by the European Union could stymie efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear standoff through talks.

"It has nothing to do with a desire to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation," Lavrov said at a news 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 U.S. 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 U.S. and its Western 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 U.N. sanctions against Iran, but in recent months has firmly rejected imposing any new sanctions and has called for more dialogue.

Russia believes that "all conceivable 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 noted that the EU's consideration of new sanctions comes as Iran plans to host a delegation from the U.N. 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."

Iran's official IRNA news agency said a senior security official, Ali Bagheri, headed to Moscow for talks with Lavrov and other Russian officials on Wednesday.
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