MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia expressed worry Tuesday over the possibility of war with Iran as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner pressed for tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasised Russia's "concern" over "multiple reports that military action against Iran is being seriously considered. It's hard to imagine what that could do to the region."
Kouchner called for "working on precise sanctions" and added that France and Russia had differences on the issue.
However, the French foreign minister also said that "everything should be done to avoid war."
"War is the worst that could happen," he said. "Everything should be done to avoid war. We have to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate -- without cease, without rebuff."
His comments appeared aimed at quieting an uproar over his statement Sunday that the world should prepare for a possible war with Iran -- a warning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed Tuesday as fanciful.
Kouchner blamed the media for distorting his statement that "we have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war."
"As usual with journalists, they take one phrase and you don't know what came after," he told Russia's Echo of Moscow radio late Tuesday.
"They're saying: Bernard Kouchner wants war. But it's not true. It's a manipulation. I don't want war, I want peace."
The Russian and French ministers met ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Friday that may impose new sanctions against Tehran for its controversial uranium enrichment activity.
Ahmadinejad dismissed talk of war in comments to journalists in Tehran on Tuesday.
"We do not take these declarations seriously. Comments to the media are different to the real positions," he said.
Tehran vehemently denies US accusations it is seeking an atomic weapon, saying its nuclear drive is aimed at generating electricity.
Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear reactor in the southern Russian city of Bushehr, has consistently warned against attacking the Islamic republic.
In an interview published just ahead of the Kouchner-Lavrov meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov warned that a "bombing of Iran would be a bad move that would end with catastrophic consequences."
The United States has never ruled out using military strikes to punish Iran for defying UN Security Council demands that it halt its enrichment activity. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday that "all options are on the table."
Iran has said it would never initiate an attack but would respond with crushing force if the United States launched a strike on its territory.
Kouchner is set to fly to Washington on Wednesday to take up the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Fearing possible military action, Moscow has drawn up plans to evacuate its nuclear experts from Bushehr in the event of a conflict, deputy foreign minister Losyukov said.
He stressed in an interview with daily Vremya Novostei that the use of force would only "worsen the situation in the Middle East" and "bring a very negative reaction from the Muslim world."
On Monday, the UN atomic agency chief warned against the hasty use of force in the Iranian nuclear dispute but dismissed the French comments about possible war as "a lot of hype."
"We need always to remember that use of force could only be resorted to when ... every other option has been exhausted. I don't think we are at all there," ElBaradei told reporters at a conference of his International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"There is a UN charter and there are rules for the international use of force," ElBaradei said.
Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazadeh told the general conference of the IAEA's 144 member states that Western countries "have always chosen the path of confrontation instead of the path of understanding and cordial relations toward the great nation of Iran."
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