MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia opposes U.S. and possible European oil sanctions against Iran, even if Tehran presses ahead with uranium enrichment which Western powers say serves military goals, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday.
Russia, which helped build Iran’s first nuclear plant in Bushehr, has in recent months increased its criticism of Tehran’s nuclear program.
But Tehran’s long-standing ally still opposes additional Western sanctions which are expected to hurt Iran’s economy.
“Regardless of any conditions ... be those the conditions in which the Iranian nuclear program expands or others, we are against the application of such measures against Iran,” he was quoted by Russia’s state-run Itar-Tass news agency as saying.
He said new sanctions would not strengthen nuclear non-proliferation and could lower chances for future dialogue with Tehran on its nuclear ambitions.
“Those sanctions have nothing to do with...strengthening nuclear non-proliferation,” he said. “Secondly, (the previous sanctions) against Iran have not come closer to, but have moved further away from, a negotiated solution.”
Washington imposed additional sanctions on Iran last month and the EU is expected to agree a ban on imports of Iranian oil this month in addition to the existing four rounds of U.N. sanctions.
Iran confirmed this week it had started uranium enrichment near the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom, prompting a stern Western reaction and a rebuke from the Russian Foreign Ministry saying it regretted the decision and was concerned about it.
Tehran, which says its nuclear program serves peaceful goals, reacted to Western sanctions by threatening to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet for 40 percent of the world’s traded oil, if its oil exports were targeted, raising tensions in the region.
Ryabkov warned the West against escalation in the narrow strait linking the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
“A military operation against Iran would be a grave mistake, a brutal miscalculation,” he said. “The consequences of such a hypothetical development would be far-reaching for regional and global security.”
Iran carried out naval exercises earlier this month in the Persian Gulf close to the strait, guarded by a U.S.-led international naval strike force. The United States said it would use force if Iran blocked the strait for navigation.
Ryabkov said the door for six-power talks on Iran’s nuclear program remained open, a year after they stalled with Tehran saying its right to enrich uranium was non-negotiable.
Reporting By Alexei Anishchuk; Edited by Richard Meares