MOSCOW - Russia on Wednesday vehemently criticized a UN nuclear watchdog report saying Iran appeared to have worked on designing an atom bomb, saying it contained no new evidence and was being used to undercut efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.
Sharpening opposition to any new sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, where Russia has veto power, senior diplomats said further punitive measures would be "destructive" and urged a revival of talks between Tehran and global powers.
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The Russian remarks came during a visit by a senior Iranian official for talks on the program which Tehran says is peaceful but the United States and its allies fear is aimed at developing the capability to build atomic weapons.
They underscored a divide between Russia and the West over a report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency that deepened US and European suspicions about Tehran's intentions.
"According to our initial evaluations, there is no fundamentally new information in the report," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"We are talking about a compilation of known facts, given a politicized tone," it said, adding that interpretations of the report brought to mind the use of faulty intelligence to seek support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Earlier, in a barrage of Russian comments on Iran, Deputy Foreign
Minister Gennady Gatilov said any new sanctions "will be seen in the
international community as an instrument for regime change in Tehran",
"That approach is unacceptable to us, and the Russian side does not intend to consider such proposals."
Russia's point man for Iran diplomacy, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei
Ryabkov, said Moscow opposed "strengthening sanctions pressure on Iran"
and is trying to bring other nations in line with that stance, Itar-Tass
"We are showing them the faulty and destructive nature of that policy," Ryabkov said.
In its report on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
said Iran may still be conducting secret research with no logical
application other than developing nuclear bombs.
A US official said the United States could impose more sanctions on
Iran. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Security Council
should be convened and that Paris was ready to adopt "unprecedented"
sanctions if Tehran refused to cooperate with efforts to ensure it is
not pursuing nuclear weapons.
Russia has grudgingly approved four rounds of UN sanctions on Iran after
watering them down, with China. But it has criticized Western states
for imposing additional punitive measures and signaled in recent months
that it would oppose a new push for sanctions in the Security Council.
Russia has close commercial ties with Iran and built a nuclear power
plant that was switched on in the Islamic Republic this year. It has
repeatedly said too much pressure on Tehran is counterproductive.
Russia is instead calling for a step-by-step process under which
existing sanctions would be eased in return for actions by Tehran to
dispel international concerns.Moscow calls report an attempt to scuttle Russian initiatives
In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said discussions of the
IAEA report had turned into a tool for attempts to scuttle the Russian
initiative and doom chances for a diplomatic settlement, warning that
could sow confrontation.
"Russia is very concerned that the report is being used to undermine
efforts by the international community for the swiftest possible
political and diplomatic resolution of the situation surrounding Iran's
nuclear program," it said.
"We also see in this an attempt to deliver a blow to Russian initiatives whose aim to foster a solution."
In a visit that appeared to have been timed to coincide with the
report's release, Ali Baqeri, deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme
National Security Council, met Russian presidential Security Council
Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow
In the meeting, they emphasized the need for new talks between Iran and
six global powers -- Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France
and Germany -- as well as the IAEA, the Russian Security Council said in
Senior Russian security officials accept the West has legitimate
concerns about Iran's nuclear program. But officials, including Russian
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is expected to return to the
presidency next year, have said there is no clear evidence Iran is
trying to develop a nuclear bomb.
Analysts say Moscow may have calculated that it has little to gain from
supporting new sanctions against Iran. This would further hurt ties
already damaged by Russia's backing of the most recent measures in June
2010, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also scrapped a deal to
deliver air-defense missiles to Tehran.
Those sanctions were adopted at a time of improving relations between
Russia and the United States, after US President Barack Obama downsized a
European missile defense plan that Russia opposed and signed a nuclear
arms limitation treaty with Medvedev.