MOSCOW—Russia and China oppose using political, economic or military force to isolate Iran or pressure the Islamic Republic to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday.
"We confirmed today that neither Russia nor China will be able to support the (United Nations) Security Council's possible resolution that would contain a pretext for coercive, let alone military, measures," Lavrov told reporters after two days of discussions in Beijing with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
Lavrov also announced that hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom the Bush administration is trying to isolate, would attend a summit in Shanghai next month with the leaders of Russia, China and four Central Asian nations.
Reinforced by record crude oil prices and by more than $200 billion in gold and hard currency reserves, Russia is challenging U.S. policies toward Iran, North Korea and the militant leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Its leaders also are expressing growing irritation with American criticism of their domestic policies.
The most pointed criticism so far has come from Vice President Dick Cheney, who on May 4 said: "In many areas of civil society—from religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties—the (Russian) government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people." Cheney also warned Russia against using its natural gas and oil wealth to bully its neighbors.
In his May 10 state of the nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by criticizing "Comrade Wolf" and blaming the U.S. for igniting a new high-tech arms race that will force Russia to upgrade its military.
"Where is all that pathos of the need to fight for human rights and democracy when it concerns the need to realize their own interests?" Putin asked. "It turns out that anything is possible then."
The rhetoric has gotten so heated that Putin denied Saturday that he's spoiling for a new cold war. "We don't need this," Putin told Russian journalists.
"We are heading towards growing tensions and misunderstandings and mistrust," said Alexei Arbatov, the director of the Center for International Security in Moscow. "We are left with very little, other than some general ideas that we cannot go back to the Cold War and that we have common interests."
Arbatov said that both nations have tried to "substitute personal relations" between top leaders for agreements on strategic issues.
Arbatov blamed U.S. officials for destroying "the whole arms-control regime" and said U.S. leaders are confused about their foreign-policy priorities.
"If Iran is the No. 1 priority, and you want to gain Russian support for your positions, you don't attack Russia because of what's happening in the post-Soviet space or domestic space or for its energy strategy," Arbatov said. "Now the American superior power thinks there's only two points of view: One is American and the other is wrong."
Yevgeny Volk, who heads the conservative Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, questioned Putin's commitment to cooperating on a broad range of fronts—fighting terrorism, promoting Middle East peace and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration, Volk said, is finally speaking up about the menace posed by Putin, whom he regards as mired in anti-American stereotypes of the Soviet era.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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