Putin warns against Iran sanction threats
Russian PM makes statement while meeting with China, other Asian nations
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned other world powers against threatening Iran during current negotiations over the Islamic country's nuclear program.
Talk of further sanctions on Iran were "premature" and should not be considered unless diplomatic efforts fail, Putin said Wednesday.
"There is no need to frighten the Iranians," Putin told reporters with Reuters and Agence-France Presse from Beijing, where he was attending a regional security conference with representatives from other Asian countries, including China.
Putin said what was needed was a compromise, and only if a compromise is not reached should other options be considered.
Putin's comments echo those of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Tuesday during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the threat of sanctions would be unproductive.
Putin also said there was no contradiction between these statements and earlier comments from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said sanctions are sometimes unavoidable.
The United States and its allies Britain, France and Germany are contemplating tighter sanctions on Iran as negotiations continue in an effort to get Iran to put a halt on its nuclear program.
The four Western allies, Russia and China are together pushing for unfettered access to Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, which they suspect might be used to produce nuclear weapons, though Iran says they are purely for energy purposes.
Since negotiations began, Iran has pledged to open its recently revealed uranium enrichment plant near Qom to UN inspectors.
Russia has also said it has offered to help enrich uranium for Iran and have it returned in a form that could be used for medical research.
The UN has imposed three previous sets of sanctions on Iran for pursuing its uranium enrichment program.
The first sanctions in 2006 focused on banning trade in materials, equipment, goods and technology that could contribute to the nuclear program.
The sanctions were expanded in 2007 to include arms exports from Iran, and in 2008 Iran was restricted from importing technologies that could be used for both civilian and military purposes.
As a permanent UN Security Council member, Russia would need to approve any new sanctions, though it possible the four Western powers could pursue sanctions independent of the UN.
Russia, China working on energy deal
Putin wrapped up his three-day visit to China's capital on Wednesday, during which Russia signed a dozen commercial pacts worth $3.5 billion US and established the framework for a separate multi-billion agreement to build two natural gas pipelines to China from Russian gas fields in the Far East.
Together those pipelines would be capable of supplying China with 68 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually, representing 85 per cent of the gas China currently consumes. Once a price is agreed upon and the pipelines built, China could become Russia's single biggest customer for natural gas.
Russian officials have predicted the final pact could be signed in June 2010, with the first gas deliveries possibly starting in 2014 or 2015.
With files from The Associated Press