Kremlin official says Iran sanctions ‘possible’ but warns against harming Iranian people

Jon Ward Contributor
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A top adviser to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that sanctions against Iran to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon are “possible” but warned against penalties that cause harm to the Iranian people.

“We believe everything possible should be done to avoid Iran having nuclear arms,” said Arkady Dvorkovich, an economic adviser to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, during a speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“We believe that sanctions are possible. Those sanctions should not be against the Iranian people, millions of people. Sanctions should be against political authorities, those who make those decisions. The people should not be punished,” Dvorkovich said.

He added that Medvedev and President Obama were discussing the issue of sanctions on the sidelines of the two-day summit in Washington called by Obama to focus on the threat of nuclear proliferation.

At the summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an agreement with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to destroy 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, which Clinton said was enough to produce 17,000 nuclear bombs.

Medvedev also announced it would be shutting down a nuclear reactor that the White House said had been producing weapons-grade plutonium for 52 years in “in the formerly secret Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk.”

On Iran, the White House has said with great confidence recently that it has gained support for sanctions from Russia and China, the two members of the United Nations Security Council who have been most hesitant to crack down financially on Tehran.

Obama himself said two weeks ago that he expected the Security Council to approve sanctions “within weeks.” And on Monday the White House said it believed China was ready to get on board with sanctions, following a meeting between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Medvedev, however, on Monday knocked down the idea that a push in the U.S. Congress for sanctions against Iran’s energy sector would gain international support.

Dvorkovich, who is a force within the Russian government for economic innovation and free markets, also said that the Kremlin believes they will be able to reach an agreement with the Obama administration this year that allows them to join the World Trade Organization, something they have been seeking for more than 17 years.

Dvorkovich said that many Russians think the idea of sweeping controls to limit emissions because of global warming is “crazy,” and said the Kremlin is focused on promoting energy efficiency but not economy-wide controls on emissions.

“For Russia, you cannot sell the climate agenda to anyone,” he said.

Most Russians, Dvorkovich said, “will feel you are crazy” if you try to argue in favor of broad climate change legislation or regulation that is being demanded in many Western countries.

The Russian government, he said, is talking about “energy efficiency” rather than emissions controls, he said, adding that the government should not intrude to heavily into the business marketplace.

Dvorkovich complained that the Group of 20 — which the Bush administration initiated to include developing nations in head of state level discussions about the global economy — has so far been slanted in favor of Western countries.

He cited the location of the three summits so far in Washington, London and Pittsburgh, and the upcoming summit this June in Canada.

“The feeling form the side of developing countries is that we’re being treated unequally. But this will change,” Dvorkovich said.

The G20, he said, was “meant to be collaborative, not a group where some countries have a bigger role than others.”

The G20 will also meet this November in South Korea.

As for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Dvorkovich said he has “a big role” in shaping Russia’s economic policy.

Medvedev “sets strategic targets and make strategic decisions” but the implementation is in the hands of the broader government, Dvorkovich said.

Watch video of the Nuclear Summit:

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