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Russia says U.S. deserves no explanation on Syria arms, rejects sanctions

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Russia, which has been criticized for its sale of weapons to conflict-torn Syria, has no intention to justify its actions to the United States, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

Lavrov spoke after a Russian-operated ship carrying what a Cypriot official said was ammunition arrived in Syria last week from St. Petersburg after being held up in Cyprus.

The United States said it had raised concerns about the ship with Russia.

“We don’t consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any (U.N.) Security Council resolutions,” Lavrov told an annual news conference.

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Tuesday that the United States had “very grave concern about arms flows into Syria from any source.”

She said it was unfortunate that there was no arms embargo against Syria, where the United Nations says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in a 10-months crackdown on opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Russia, which along with China blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution in October that threatened an arms embargo on Syria, says an embargo would cut off supplies to the government while enabling armed opponents to receive weapons illegally.

Lavrow also said Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, will reject any use of sanctions or deployment of troops over the unrest in Syria.

Lavrov indicated that Russia would use its U.N. Security Council veto to block any proposals for military intervention in Syria, following a suggestion by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to send in Arab troops.

“We will hardly be able to prevent (force) if someone really wants to do something like that. But let that be on their own initiative and rest on their conscience.

“They will not receive any mandate from the U。N。 Security Council,” he said.

Russia has irked the West with its position on Syria as the crackdown by Assad’s regime on protestors intensified. Moscow has insisted the Syrian opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.

It has proposed its own resolution at the United Nations Security Council, condemning both sides for the unrest. But Western states have complained that it fails to hold Assad accountable.

Lavrov described the position of Western states over Syria as “one-sided.”

Western criticism of Russia’s resolution failed to take account of the actions of “the armed extremist opposition against administrative buildings, hospitals, schools, and the acts of terror that are being carried out,” he said.

“Why do we need to stay silent about this? The approach of our Western partners is one-sided,” he said, complaining the West also did not want the resolution to make clear it excluded the use of force.

Defying the West on Iran

He issued a similarly stern warning over the risks of a military attack on Iran over its nuclear drive -- an option never ruled out by the West and Israel -- which he said would be a catastrophe with the “severest consequences” for the Middle East.

“As for the chances of this catastrophe happening, you would have to ask those constantly mentioning it as an option that remains on the table,” said Lavrov.

He warned of the “severest consequences” including “adding fuel to the fire” to tensions between Sunnis and Shias and an influx of refugees into Iran’s ex-Soviet neighbor Azerbaijan as well as Russia itself.

Lavrov noted that Russia had in the past backed U.N. sanctions against the Iranian nuclear and missile industries but said Moscow rejected sanctions targeting Iran’s wider economy, a tactic now being adopted by the West.

He indicated that Russia suspected crippling economic sanctions were aimed at sparking discontent inside the country, which has now been run by an anti-U.S. Islamic regime for over three decades.

“It is seriously aimed at suffocating the Iranian economy and the well-being of its people, probably in the hope of inciting discontent.”

Moscow’s initial relations with the Islamic republic in the 1980s were tense but after the collapse of the collapse of the Soviet Union, ties warmed rapidly, based on common energy interests and a shared distrust of the West.

Meanwhile, Russia still maintains close ties with the secular regime in Damascus that were cultivated under Bashar al-Assad’s father and strongman predecessor Hafez al-Assad.

Russia maintains a naval base in Syria in the port of Tartus and remains a key supplier of weapons to Damascus.