MOSCOW (AP) _ A senior Russian lawmaker said Tuesday that Moscow would likely back a draft U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program _ a statement that contrasted with the Russian foreign minister's criticism of the draft.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members with strong commercial ties to Tehran, have consistently been reluctant to support sanctions. But China issued muted criticism of Iran on Tuesday over its standoff with the Security Council.
Asked about comments from the Iranian president that Tehran would oppose any sanctions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said ``the relevant parties should not take any measures that may lead to the escalation of the situation.''
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow was opposed to the draft resolution, but on Tuesday Yuri Volkov, a deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, said Russia ``will apparently have to join a new resolution on Iran proposed by Britain, Germany and France that envisages limited economic sanctions.''
Volkov has played a low-key role in the past and made no statements on global politics, although he is in charge of inter-parliamentary contacts with Iran. Like most other members of the Duma, he belongs to the Kremlin-controlled United Russia faction, but it is unclear whether he has any access to Kremlin decision-making.
U.N. Security Council members are deliberating the draft European resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Russia has indicated that the measure is too tough, while the United States says it is not tough enough.
But Volkov said Tuesday that ``the Iranian leadership's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment activities and engage in a constructive dialogue with leading global powers leaves no chance for a quick diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear problem.''
At the same time, Volkov added that Russia would continue efforts to encourage talks between Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana ``so that Iran isn't driven into a corner.'' Volkov also reaffirmed Russia's firm opposition to any decisions that could sanction the use of military force on Iran.
Moscow has been frustrated in its efforts to persuade Tehran to halt enrichment _ including by offering to enrich uranium on Russian soil for a peaceful Iranian nuclear program. But Russian officials have repeatedly warned that harsh punishment could make Iran even more recalcitrant.
Alexander Saltanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, met Tuesday with Iranian ambassador to Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari, ``to exchange opinions on acute international issues, including the situation in the Middle East,'' the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also said that Lavrov held talks Monday with UAE Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during which they ``reaffirmed the need to search for political and diplomatic ways of solving the situation around the Iranian nuclear problem.''