Russian general: Iran's enemies to decide course soon

MOSCOW Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:41am GMT

Demonstrators wave the Iranian flag and hold a picture of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran's Azadi square February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Demonstrators wave the Iranian flag and hold a picture of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran's Azadi square February 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's top general said on Tuesday that he expects Iran's enemies to decide in the next few months how to deal with a nuclear programme that the United States and Israel have said they might attack.

In remarks that come as Russia has been voicing its differences with the West on various issues in the Middle East, General Nikolai Makarov, the chief-of-staff, was quoted by RIA news agency as saying: "Iran, of course, is a sore spot."

"There has to be some kind of decision about it now. It will be made, probably, closer to summer," he said.

Moscow has warned adamantly against any use of force to rein in Tehran's nuclear programme, which the Western powers and Israel say conceals a plan to develop atomic weapons.

The reports on RIA and other Russian news agencies of Makarov's remarks to local journalists did not quote the general specifying which of Iran's adversaries he was referring to, nor what they might do or when.

However, in recent weeks there has been renewed speculation, fuelled by remarks from U.S. and Israeli officials, that one or other or both those countries might launch strikes on Iran.

As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin campaigns for a presidential election next month, Moscow has been keen to make its voice heard on the Middle East, vetoing a U.N. condemnation of Syria's leader and criticising Western hostility toward Iran.

Russian officials have said aggressive language and speculation about a strike have aggravated tension and set back efforts to end Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment.

They also use the talk of war as part of a portrayal of the United States as a nation out for world domination while, they say, Russia is interested only in peace.

Putin, expected to win the presidency by a comfortable margin, said last week that global affairs had been permeated by a "cult of violence", in reference to U.S. foreign policy.

Makarov said the Russian military was closely watching Iran, Syria and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Russia has said it will not allow a repeat in Syria of last year's events in Libya, where NATO helped topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Moscow, one of six powers negotiating with Iran to prove its claims that its nuclear programme has no military purpose, has repeatedly said that too much pressure is counterproductive.

Russia built Iran's first nuclear power plant, which began operation last year, and has used its ties with Tehran as a lever in relations with the United States.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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