Russia warns against military strike on Iran
MOSCOW/ST PETERSBURG, Russia
MOSCOW/ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russia and Iran warned the West against a military strike on the Islamic Republic on Monday, saying an attack targeting its nuclear program would lead to civilian casualties and create new threats to global security.
The separate remarks by foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran coincided with speculation about a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites ahead of the release of a U.N. watchdog report expected to cast more light on suspected military aspects to Iran's nuclear activity.
"This would be a very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow when asked about reports that Israel was preparing for a possible pre-emptive military strike.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, Salehi said Iran "condemns any threat of military attack on independent states."
Salehi spoke alongside Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other ministers from nations in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional grouping dominated by Russia and China in which Iran has observer status.
Germany's Foreign Ministry also rejected military action against Iran, suggesting that the dispute should be resolved through diplomatic pressure instead. "This continues to be the key way to move forward in dealing with this threat to regional and international security," a spokesman said.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, due out this week, may strengthen suspicions that Tehran is seeking to develop the capability to make atomic bombs and lead to Western calls for further U.N. sanctions on Iran.
Russia and China grudgingly supported four previous rounds of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. But the two veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members have made clear any new sanctions would be an extremely tough sell.
Moscow is calling for a step-by-step process under which the existing sanctions would be eased in return for actions by Iran to dispel concerns over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is purely peaceful.
Russia, which has built Iran's first nuclear power station, has vociferously opposed any military action.
"NO MILITARY SOLUTION"
"There is no military solution to the Iranian nuclear problem as there is no military solution to any other problem in the modern world," said Lavrov.
"This is confirmed to us every day when we see how the problems of the conflicts around Iran are being resolved -- whether Iraq or Afghanistan or what is happening in other countries in the region. Military intervention only leads to many times more deaths and human suffering."
Reflecting regional fear of blowback from any attack on Iran, a government official in Kuwait said the Gulf state would not let its territory be used to launch attacks on any of its neighbors. Kuwait was a launchpad for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and lies a short distance from Iran across the Gulf.
Salehi echoed Lavrov's words hours later.
"Past experience has shown that willful, unilateral military actions by certain countries have led to instability, to the murder of innocent people and to the emergence of new threats to the world," he said at the SCO meeting.
Israeli media have been rife with talk that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to secure cabinet consensus for an attack on Iranian nuclear installations.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said the United States remained focused on using diplomatic and economic levers to pressure Iran.
Asked whether he believed Israel would give the United States advance notice in the event of military action against Iran, Little said: "It would always of course be preferable on a matter as grave as this to work closely with the Israelis."
A military strike would likely provoke Tehran into hugely disruptive retaliatory measures in the Gulf that would sever shipping routes and disrupt the flow of oil and gas to export markets, political analysts believe.
It would sour ties between the West and Russia, where Putin is expected to return to the presidency in 2012.
Senior Russian security officials accept that the West has legitimate concerns about Iran's nuclear program. But Putin has said several times in the past that there was no clear evidence that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb.