UNITED NATIONS, Sept 28 (Reuters) Russia opposes new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program at this time because it would undermine a study by the UN atomic watchdog of Iran's activities, Russian news agencies said today.
Iran last month agreed to explain the scope of its nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but critics say the deal allows Tehran to address issues one by one in a long-drawn-out process that could last until December.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that since Iran had promised to clarify all issues, ''interference by way of new sanctions would mean undermining'' IAEA efforts, according to the Itar-Tass agency.
The United States, France and other allies want the UN Security Council to agree tougher sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which the West suspects is cover for bomb making. Iran says its program is for generating nuclear power.
Lavrov, in a briefing to Russian reporters in New York, said the Council might discuss tougher sanctions in the future but the time was not ripe yet. Instead the council should give Tehran an opportunity to carry out its agreement with the IAEA, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
Earlier, France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters that Lavrov had made clear in discussions with him that he was unlikely to support new UN sanctions until after the IAEA finished its survey in December.
''I think it would very difficult to convince the Russians and the Chinese before (then),'' said Kouchner, who said he had spent hours trying in vain to persuade Lavrov to join western states in a new round of tighter sanctions against Iran.
RETURN TO COUNCIL? Russia, backed by China, has not flatly refused to allow the issue to return to the Security Council but diplomats said Lavrov did not engage in any of the discussions this week on what a new set of sanctions would entail.