BEIJING — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticized talk of sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, undermining U.S. efforts to present a united front against Tehran's nuclear program at a crucial moment.
Putin's comments in China came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's side in Moscow, said threatening sanctions was "counterproductive."
Russia's growing hostility to even discussing sanctions comes shortly after President Barack Obama canceled plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe. That was seen by some as a concession to Russia in hopes of persuading it to put more pressure on Iran to open its nuclear program for inspection.
The United States and a number of other countries contend the program is meant to develop nuclear weapons.
"If we speak about some kind of sanctions now, before we take concrete steps, we will fail to create favorable conditions for negotiations," Putin said. "That is why we consider such talk premature."
Putin's words served as a parting shot at Clinton, who wound up a two-day visit to Russia as part of an effort to mend relations. She came to Moscow seeking solidarity for a firm warning to Iran of the consequences of refusing to stop enriching uranium and come clean about its nuclear activities.
Speaking to reporters shortly returning home from Beijing, Putin sounded less cooperative on Iran than President Dmitry Medvedev, who said in Pittsburgh last month that sanctions are sometimes inevitable.
Ever since, Russian officials have been backtracking from that remark, at least in public, while insisting they are not.