Days before Putin arrives in Israel, Russia warns against issuing ultimatums to Iran

Foreign Minister Lavrov says a quick settlement isn’t possible

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister said Friday that Iran shouldn’t face threats over its nuclear program and that a quick settlement of the standoff over it isn’t realistic.

Sergey Lavrov said the latest round of talks in Moscow this week between six world powers and Iran has been “quite useful,” even though there was no breakthrough. He said talks must continue without “any artificial deadlines or ultimatums.”

Iran insists its uranium enrichment program serves only civilian purposes, but the U.S., Israel and others suspect it’s a cover for building nuclear weapons. Israel has accused Iran of stretching out the talks to move closer to the ability to make an atomic bomb, and it has threatened to attack the Islamic Republic as a last resort.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is expected to face a strong Israeli demand to take a tougher line on Iran when he visits the Jewish state next week. Lavrov’s statement signaled, however, that Moscow will likely respond to Israeli calls for stronger action with its usual advice to be patient and continue talks.

“In order to settle the issue, it’s necessary to refrain from constant threats of using force, abandon scenarios aimed against Iran, and stop dismissing the talks as failure,” Lavrov said on Russia’s Rossiya 24 television.

He said the international talks mustn’t be dragged out, but that it would be wrong to “put forward any artificial deadlines and ultimatums and say that if there is no final agreement by the end of July or August — and there simply can’t be any in such a (short) period — then we will end talks and launch some kind of bellicose actions.”

The Kremlin has long walked a fine line on the Iranian nuclear crisis, mixing careful criticism of Iran, an important trading partner, with praise for some of its moves and calls for more talks. Although Moscow, which built Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr, has backed some of the previous U.N. sanctions against Iran, it has in recent months firmly rejected new ones.

Russia — which hosted this week’s round of talks with Iran that also involved the U.S., China, Britain, France and Germany — sought to put a positive spin on their outcome. Western officials outlined huge differences between the two sides, but also argued that the diplomatic track hasn’t been derailed.

The negotiators agreed to hold a low-level meeting on July 3 of technical experts in Istanbul, Turkey, before deciding whether there is enough common ground to hold another round of full-fledged political talks. A pause in negotiations may offer a new opportunity for Israel to argue that military force is the only way to stop Tehran from developing atomic weapons.

Iran’s nuclear program is expected to be at the forefront of discussions between Putin and senior Israeli officials next week in Jerusalem.

“The message they (the Russians) will receive is that Israel can’t tolerate a nuclear Iran. Of course we prefer a diplomatic solution, but we will use all means to protect Israel’s survival,” said Yacov Livne, head of the Russia desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

“We expect Russia, as a member of the Security Council, to demonstrate responsibility and help to prevent the Iranian nuclear race,” he said. “I think that will be the most important subject, the central subject here next week.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said repeatedly that Israel can wait a weeks but not years for negotiations to succeed.

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