MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that a European draft resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program would isolate Iran, suggesting that Moscow will not back the resolution in its current form, news agencies reported.
"We cannot support measures that in essence are aimed at isolating Iran from the outside world, including isolating people who are called upon to conduct negotiations on the nuclear program," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying.
Lavrov also reiterated his claim that the draft U.N. Security Council resolution — meant to punish Iran for its persistent refusal to halt uranium enrichment activities that have heightened fears it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons — goes beyond existing agreements among nations seeking to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"The draft ... goes far outside the framework of agreements," Interfax quoted him as saying.
The European draft orders all countries to prevent the sale and supply of material and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It orders countries to freeze the assets of companies and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs, and also imposes a travel ban and freezes the assets of people involved in these programs — a measure Lavrov appeared to be referring to in his remark suggesting it would hamper negotiators.
Interfax said Lavrov's remarks came in response to a question about whether Russia completely rejects the European draft or intends to seek changes. The text of the resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany was expected to be discussed this week at the United Nations.
While the U.S. indicated that it considers the draft too weak, Lavrov has signaled Russia's opposition and suggested it is too strong. Russia has not ruled out sanctions against Iran but repeatedly has warned that harsh measures could harden Tehran's defiance and scuttle chances for a negotiated end to the prolonged standoff over its nuclear program.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members, consistently have been reluctant to support sanctions. Comments Tuesday by Russia's Security Council chief Igor Ivanov hinted that Russia could support sanctions as a way to push Tehran into talks, but also left plenty of room for wrangling in the council.
Speaking in Moscow on Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who will take over as U.N. secretary-general on Jan. 1, urged Iran to halt uranium enrichment and accept an international offer of incentives in return, Interfax reported. Iran's rejection of the proposal prompted the moves toward punishment that could include sanctions.
Russia has strong commercial ties with Iran, and a Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Moscow would fulfill a contract to supply air defense missiles to Iran unless Moscow backs international sanctions that would make it illegal.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, denied an ITAR-Tass news agency report that said Russia had already started deliveries of the missiles under the contract.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov defended the $700 million contract signed last December to sell 29 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran, saying they were purely defensive weapons with a limited range.
"I wish to underline that these systems cannot be used in offensive operations," he told Russia Today television in an interview broadcast Wednesday. "Secondly, they have a limited use as they are capable of protecting a small part of the Iranian territory."