January 23, 2012 / 8:01 PM / 7 years ago

Russia alarmed by EU oil ban, hopes for Iran talks

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia expressed regret and alarm on Monday over the European Union’s ban on Iranian oil and other economic sanctions, and said Tehran would not be strong-armed into making concessions on its nuclear program.

“It is obvious that what is happening here is open pressure and diktat, an attempt to ‘punish’ Iran for its intractable behavior,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement after EU nations agreed the measures.

“This is a deeply mistaken line, as we have told our European partners more than once. Under such pressure Iran will not agree to any concessions or any changes in its policy.”

Russia built Iran’s first nuclear power plant and uses its ties with Tehran as a lever in relations with the United States and Europe. It has repeatedly warned the West that too much pressure is counterproductive.

Speaking earlier on Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized Moscow’s opposition to Western sanctions against Iran, saying they reduced the chances of ending the confrontation over its nuclear program.

However, he said Russia hopes international talks on the divisive issue can resume soon.

“Despite these aggravating factors, we still have a strong hope to resume talks in the nearest future,” he said of long-dormant talks between Iran and six global powers — Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

He said Russia would try to deter both Iran and the West from making “sharp moves” that would further jeopardize the chances for talks, but did not explain how it would do so.

The European Union banned imports of oil from Iran on Monday and imposed a number of other economic sanctions, joining the United States in a new round of measures aimed at pushing Iran into reining in its nuclear activities.

Veto-wielding U.N. Security Council member Russia has emphasized it opposes any further sanctions beyond the four rounds of measures it approved in the council in recent years.

Lavrov said last week that additional sanctions were aimed at triggering popular discontent in Iran by “strangling” the economy and the civilian population.

Russia has proposed a plan under which existing sanctions would be eased in return for steps by Tehran to instill trust and wants the proposal to be discussed if the talks, stalled for a year, resume.

Iran said last week that it was in touch with the six powers to reopen talks soon, but the European Union denied it. Western nations said Iran must show it is serious about demonstrating that its nuclear activities are purely peaceful.

Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Thomas Grove and Robert Woodward

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