Russia warns U.S. against striking Iran


Associated Press
Date: 02-28-07

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW - Russia's foreign minister warned Washington not to use force against Iran and criticized what he described as the United States' unilateral approach to other global crises in an interview published Wednesday.

Russia was worried about Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comment that "all options are on the table" to stop Tehran from becoming a nuclear power, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

"We are concerned about the possibility of a military scenario," Lavrov was quoted as saying, in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta. "We are observing a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Such a buildup of forces always threatens to trigger a military conflict, even by accident."

Iran has ignored a U.N. deadline to halt the enrichment of uranium, which the U.S. says is part of a secret effort to build nuclear weapons. Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but highly enriched uranium can be used in an atomic bomb.

Russia has repeatedly spoken out against the use of military force against Iran, and has warned that harsh punishment would be counterproductive.

In December, Russia supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed limited sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt enrichment, but only after the council dropped an initial proposal to impose curbs on a nuclear power plant Russia is building in Iran.

Senior diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany met Monday in London to discuss ways to pressure Iran to suspend enrichment. Officials in London and Washington said new measures would likely include incremental restrictions on trade and arms.

Lavrov asserted that the talks on the Iranian issue were deadlocked, saying both the United States and Iran were unwilling to compromise.

"It would be unforgivable to miss a chance to use every opportunity to start such talks because of a false notion of prestige, because of the unyielding stance taken by both parties," he was quoted as saying.

Echoing recent comments made by President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov also assailed Washington for what he called a unilateralist approach to global issues.

"When they offer us a unilateral strategy and urge us to express solidarity in combating one or another evil ... that's not the behavior of a partner," he was quoted as saying.

Lavrov added that Putin's harsh criticism of U.S. policy earlier this month voiced an opinion many other nations shared, but were afraid to express publicly.

Putin told a security conference in Munich Feb. 10 that the United States "has overstepped its national borders in every way" and accused it of triggering a global arms race.

Lavrov praised Putin's blunt talk: "Someone had to say it ... to show the need for candid talk about how to deal with global affairs."

Russia can speak independently, he said, because of its resurgence following the troubled years after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

"There are those who cannot say 'no' to the United States," he said, according to the newspaper. "But we can allow ourselves to tell the truth, and not just reject unilateral calls for support but offer concrete constructive alternatives."

In a bid to increase its role in Middle East peace efforts, Russia this week hosted Khaled Mashaal, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Lavrov said Tuesday the Hamas chief pledged to end missile attacks and violence against Israel, although Mashaal reaffirmed his group's refusal to recognize Israel.

Lavrov also called for lifting the financial aid blockade of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

The United States, the Europeans and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Hamas' renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel are key demands of the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers - Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

In the newspaper interview, Lavrov said Russia will continue to support the Quartet's demand that Hamas recognize Israel. But he warned the West's refusal to deal with the militant group could undermine a fragile accord among the Palestinians.

"It's wrong and shortsighted not to see the real progress that already has been made," he said.



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