MOSCOW – Russia does not intend to toughen its policy toward Iran regarding its nuclear program, a senior Russian diplomat said Monday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it's necessary to intensify international efforts to reach a political settlement of the Iranian nuclear standoff. But Ryabkov added that Russia has no intention to take a harsher attitude to Iran, Russian news agencies reported.
"Our stance on the Iranian nuclear program has no elements which could be interpreted as toughening of approach," Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons — charges that Iran denies.
Russia has developed close ties with Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant. Moscow has supported limited U.N. sanctions on Iran, but opposed the U.S. push for tougher measures.
President Barack Obama has signaled a new willingness to engage Iran, whose relations with the Bush administration were long strained.
Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Najar arrived in Moscow late Monday for talks with his Russian counterpart on bilateral military ties, the Interfax news agency reported.
Russia has supplied weapons to Iran, despite U.S. and Israeli complaints. However, Russian officials have rejected claims that they have provided Iran with powerful S-300 air defense missiles.
Anatoly Isaikin, head of the Russian Rosoboronexport state arms-selling monopoly, was quoted in an interview published earlier this month as saying that it had not supplied S-300s to Iran yet but was ready to do so if ordered by the government.
Interfax said that Najar will likely push for delivery of S-300s during his visit to Russia.
Ryabkov said Monday that ending the Iranian nuclear standoff could also help advance U.S.-Russian talks on possible cooperation on missile defense.
"As soon as there is a shift toward restoring confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, opportunities will open for deeper talk on prospects for cooperation on missile defense," Ryabkov said. "We are studying signals from the U.S. administration, and, for our part, have made proposals on how we can cooperate in the missile defense field."
Russia has fiercely opposed plans by George W. Bush's administration to deploy a battery of missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic. Moscow has rejected the U.S. claims that the sites were intended to counter prospective missile threats from Iran, saying the facilities threaten Russia's security.
The Kremlin has voiced hope that Obama's administration will dump the missile defense plans.
Obama has not said how he intends to proceed. But he has stressed that the system has to be cost-effective and proven and that it should not divert resources from other national security priorities.