RTT News – January 18, 2012
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Wednesday that any western military strike on Iran over the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear program would lead to a humanitarian “catastrophe” in the region.
Speaking at an annual press conference in Moscow, Lavrov said a western military strike against Iran would trigger “large flows” of refugees from Iran and “fan the flames” of the prevailing Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions in the Middle East.
“I have no doubt that it would pour fuel on a fire which is already smoldering, the hidden smoldering fire of Sunni-Shi’ite confrontation, and beyond that (cause) a chain reaction – I don’t know where it would stop,” the media quoted him as saying at the press conference.
Although Israel has often indicated in the past that it would strike Iran to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that any decision on attacking Iran was “very far off.”
Defending Russia’s reflectance to punish Iran further at the United Nations over Teheran’s continued refusal to address international concerns on its nuclear program, Lavrov said: “All imaginable sanctions that could influence Iran’s conduct in the nuclear sphere … have been exhausted.”
He also noted that the existing and planned US and European Union sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program were “seriously intended to have a smothering effect on the Iranian economy and the Iranian population, probably in the hopes of provoking discontent.”
He then went on to propose that the western nations must make serious efforts to revive the currently stalled international talks on Iran’s nuclear program instead of imposing “sanctions, let alone threats to use force”.
Last week, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani during a visit to Turkey said his nation had accepted a Turkish offered to try and restart the currently stalled nuclear negotiations between Tehran and six world powers. The west, however, says that Teheran is yet to respond to a previous offer for talks.
Iran announced earlier in the month that it had begun enriching uranium at the underground Fordo nuclear plant, the existence of which was confirmed by Teheran only after western intelligence agencies identified it in September 2009. UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, later confirmed that production of uranium enriched up to 20% was progressing at the plant. The IAEA also said that “all nuclear material in the facility remains under the agency’s containment and surveillance.”
Although Iran maintains its uranium enrichment work is aimed at producing fuel for a medical-purpose reactor, the West suspects Teheran’s claims are just a cover-up for producing weapon-grade uranium. Iran has already survived four sets of sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council following refusal to halt its uranium enrichment, including the one imposed in June 2010.
Since then, the six world powers have held two rounds of talks with Iran, once in Geneva in December 2010 and again in Istanbul in January 2011. Both negotiations failed to reach any agreements on the issue.
Recently, the United States joined Britain and Canada in slapping new sanctions on Iran to ratchet up pressure on the Islamic Republic to roll back its disputed nuclear program. The US is also planning to impose new sanctions on Iran’s central bank with the intention of crippling the Islamic Republic’s oil revenue. The EU is also moving to impose an oil embargo on Iran.
Iran had threatened to block ship movements through the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil-shipment route, if the West imposes more sanctions over its controversial nuclear program. Following the threat, the US warned Iran that it will not tolerate any disruption to the oil traffic through the strategic waterway.