MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior Russian diplomat warned the West on Wednesday against trying to paralyze Iran by targeting the Islamic Republic’s energy and banking sectors with crippling sanctions.
Russia has in recent weeks signaled growing frustration with Iran over its nuclear program, though Moscow has given few indications about what sanctions it might be prepared to sign up to in the United Nations Security Council.
The United States has said it hopes to see sanctions against Iran in a matter of weeks and Israel has pressed Russia to back crippling sanctions, though the Kremlin has steered clear of openly supporting calls for further U.N. sanctions.
Oleg Rozhkov, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s security affairs and disarmament department, said Moscow would only consider sanctions aimed at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
“Call them what you want -- crippling or paralyzing -- we are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country,” Rozhkov told reporters in Moscow.
When asked by a reporter what sanctions Russia might be able to support, he said: “Those that are directed at resolving non-proliferation questions linked to Iran’s nuclear program.”
“What relation to non-proliferation is there in forbidding banking activities with Iran? This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas. These sanctions are aimed only at paralyzing the country and paralyzing the regime,” he said.
Iran holds 16 percent of the world’s proven gas reserves and 11 percent of the world’s oil reserves, but desperately needs investment to develop them.
The United States, major European Union nations and Israel suspect Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as cover for the development of a nuclear weapon.
Tehran denies it is seeking to make an atomic weapon. But the U.N. nuclear watchdog added to the pressure on Iran last week, saying it feared Iran was actively pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
Russian officials this month for the first time raised serious doubts about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear activities, though diplomats say the call on sanctions lies with Russia’s paramount leader, Vladimir Putin.
Putin, who serves as prime minister after stepping down as Kremlin chief, rarely comments on Iran, although he last year warned the West against pushing Tehran into a corner.
“We do not consider the sanctions path the right one -- it pushes the situation further and further into a dead end, a dead end which can only be resolved by force and we do not support that at all,” Rozhkov said of Iran sanctions.
Russia has trade ties worth $3 billion annually with Iran and weapons contracts that Israel has urged Moscow to renege on, including a deal to sell Tehran S-300 air defense systems.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday Russia would not deliver the truck-mounted S-300 missile systems -- which could protect Iran’s nuclear facilities against air strikes -- if such a sale would destabilize any region.
Additional reporting by Conor Sweeney and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov