Russia's foreign minister has rejected new sanctions against the Iranian government and oil industry, suggesting that Western powers are targeting Iran's economy and population rather than its nuclear program.
Russia on Wednesday warned against imposing stricter sanctions on Iran, accusing Western nations of attempting to "stifle" the Iran's economy and population.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested at an annual news conference in Moscow that sanctions like a ban on Iranian oil imports planned by the European Union were not really aimed at Tehran's suspicious nuclear program.
"It has nothing to do with a desire to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation," he said. "It's aimed at stifling the Iranian economy and the population in an apparent hope to provoke discontent."
Lavrov restated Moscow's opposition to further sanctions against Iran by the UN Security Council, saying the UN sanctions had "exhausted" their potential. He also said military action against Iran would be a "catastrophe" that would aggravate tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
The EU is weighing a full embargo on all Iranian oil exports, which are the source of more than 80 percent of the revenue Iran gathers abroad.
The sanctions are intended to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program, which the United States and its allies believe is meant to build a nuclear bomb. Iran rejects the accusations and says the nuclear program is only for peaceful energy and research.
The US recently imposed a new round of sanctions aimed at the Iranian central bank, effectively preventing refiners from buying and paying for Iranian crude oil. Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant, has allowed previous UN sanctions against Iran, but has more recently rejected expanding the sanctions in favor of dialogue.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson