Russia, China: Don't Use Force in Iran

Russia and China will not vote for the use of force in resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday in a sign of persisting differences with the U.S.

After two days of talks with his Chinese counterpart, Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing hold identical positions on Iran's nuclear program and a separate one by North Korea: Both disputes require diplomacy, not force.

In an outreach to Tehran, Lavrov also said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend a summit meeting next month in Shanghai of leaders from Russia, China and four Central Asian nations.

"We cannot isolate Iran or exert pressure on it. Far from resolving this issue of proliferation, it will make it more urgent," Lavrov told reporters. "Russia and China will not vote for the use of force in resolving this issue."

CountryWatch: Iran

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, at a separate briefing, also urged more energetic efforts to restart negotiations. "We believe that at the current stage relevant parties should make active gestures to launch a new round of diplomacy," Liu said.

Russia and China's preference for talks underscores the difficulties world powers are having in forging a common stand against Iran.

Last week, key U.N. Security Council members agreed to postpone a resolution that 0ould have delivered an ultimatum to Tehran, giving Iran another two weeks to reevaluate its insistence on developing its uranium enrichment capabilities.

The Chinese and Russians, who have veto power in the council, balked at British, French and U.S. efforts to put the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures if Tehran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment operations. Those measures could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action.

The Security Council is awaiting a report on Iran's program from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency. The European Union, in the latest diplomatic initiative, offered Iran economic incentives to stop enriching uranium.

Lavrov and Liu each expressed regret that Iran wasn't doing enough to respond to the concerns of the international community. Liu said China supported the latest EU effort and suggested that Iran fully consider the European proposal.

"China appreciates the active and important gesture of the EU to solve the Iranian nuclear question through dialogue," Liu said.

In recent years, Russia and China have tried publicly to project a common approach toward international issues, in part to increase their leverage against the United States. But foreign affairs specialists and diplomats say the unity is often more rhetorical than real, and Beijing is generally content to let Moscow take the lead on contentious issues, especially with the U.S.

In addition to the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues, Lavrov said he and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing agreed to coordinate their diplomacy toward Iraq, Afghanistan and efforts to reform the United Nations.

The two signed agreements Tuesday: one on building a bridge over the Argun River that marks part of their border, and the other on setting up a working commission on immigration. Chinese workers have flooded into Russia's far eastern provinces in recent years, becoming a vital part of the economy but sparking an anti-immigration backlash among some Russians.

Much of their meetings concerned preparations for the mid-June summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran, along with India, Pakistan and Mongolia, are observers.

Lavrov said a change of that observer status for Iran was not under consideration.