MOSCOW – Further sanctions against Iran would be “counterproductive,” Russia’s top diplomat said on Tuesday, pushing back pointedly against U.S. pressure for a tougher stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The remarks from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, delivered at the side of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appeared to undercut hopes that Moscow might agree to additional steps that would isolate Iran.
“We believe that at this stage all efforts must be focused on supporting the negotiating process,” Lavrov said. “Any sanctions and threats in the current situation will, in our view, be counterproductive.”
Lavrov acknowledged that odds for finding a diplomatic settlement with Iran “might not be 100 percent” but insisted chances were still strong. However, his language – “at this stage” and “in the current situation” – left open the possibility that the Russian position could change in the future.
In between the talk of “resetting” U.S.-Russian relations and careful assurances that the two countries share the same view of Iran, sharp differences were in evidence as Clinton’s visit to Moscow was under way.
“We have always looked at the potential of sanctions in the event we are not successful and cannot assure ourselves and others that Iran has decided not to pursue nuclear weapons,” Clinton said.
But many analysts now believe that Russia is exactly where it wants to be: In between the West and Iran, enjoying the lobbying and attention of both sides.
“Being in this position of having America trying to get Russia on board makes Russia look important and equal, a strong nation,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “If Russia delivers, it’s losing an important trump card. So Russia is consistently avoiding making firm and formal commitments on Iran.”
The United Nations Security Council already has imposed sanctions on Iran in each of the last three years. Russia has long been leery of responding to Iran’s nuclear program with additional sanctions. Moscow has extensive trade relations with Iran, including the recent construction of a nuclear power plant.
Hopes that Russia would take a more forceful tone with Iran had been raised last month after U.S. and U.N. officials revealed that Iran was building a previously undisclosed facility to enrich uranium.
While visiting the United States at the time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”