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Russia: Don't Pressure Iran Over Nuclear Program

A top Kremlin diplomat warned against threatening Iran with sanctions or the use of force, saying that would only aggravate the international standoff over Tehran's suspect nuclear program, Russian media reports said Saturday.

Rather than getting Iran to stop uranium enrichment, a tougher stance could result in Tehran's total refusal to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said Oleg Ozerov, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East and North Africa Department, according to ITAR-Tass.

"We firmly stand today for resolving the problems in and around Tehran diplomatically rather than militarily. Increasing international pressure on Iran has no prospects," Ozerov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The United States and European allies are pushing for sanctions because of Iran's refusal to suspend its enrichment program, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council. They suspect Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons in violation of its treaty commitments.

The Iranian regime insists the program has only the peaceful purpose of generating electricity. Russia, which has close ties with Iran and is building that nation's first nuclear power plant, opposes sanctions.

Despite what U.S. and Russian officials have described as increasingly close positions on the Iranian nuclear program in recent years, they appear far apart heading into the Friday deadline set by the Security Council for Iran to stop enrichment.

The United States and Britain say that if Iran doesn't meet the deadline, they will try to get the council to make the demand compulsory, which would raise the possibility of sanctions.

Seeking to avoid having the sanctions issue come before the council, Russian officials argue that the International Atomic Energy Agency should take the lead for the United Nations in trying to resolve tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

Ozerov stressed Russia's opposition to the use of force against Iran — an issue that got close attention in state-run Russian media after President Bush said last week that military action could not be ruled out.

"The forceful option is extremely dangerous and not constructive," ITAR-Tass quoted Ozerov as saying during a seminar on global security.

The report added that Ozerov also warned Iran against making belligerent statements.

Moscow has been frustrated by Tehran's uncooperative attitude, and ITAR-Tass said Ozerov expressed regret over the failure to reach a final agreement with Iran on a compromise proposal to have the Iranian uranium enrichment program operate on Russian territory.

The two nations announced a "basic agreement" in February on implementing the plan, which would allow closer international monitoring of Iranian enrichment program — which can produce both fuel for power-generating nuclear reactors and the core material for atomic bombs.

Iran is prepared for more talks on the Russian proposal, Iran's IAEA envoy said in Moscow on Friday. But Ali Asghar Soltanieh stressed that the details were unresolved and needed much more discussion.

Iranian officials already undercut the intent of Russia's plan by insisting that they would continue some enrichment work at home.