MOSCOW: Further sanctions against Iran would be counterproductive, Russia’s top diplomat has said, rejecting pressure for a tougher stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.The remarks by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, delivered at the side of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, appeared to undercut hopes that Moscow might agree to additional steps that would isolate Iran.”We believe … all efforts must be focused on supporting the negotiating process,” Mr Lavrov said. ”Any sanctions and threats in the current situation will, in our view, be counterproductive.”Mr Lavrov admitted the odds of reaching a diplomatic settlement with Iran ”might not be 100 per cent” but insisted chances were still strong.However, his language – ”at this stage” and ”in the current situation” – left open the possibility that the Russian position could change in the future.A US State Department official briefing reporters travelling with Mrs Clinton, who is visiting Russia to discuss a range of issues, said that the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, had told her in a separate meeting that if Iran failed to allow full inspections of a previously undisclosed nuclear site and fulfil other agreements struck in Geneva, new sanctions should be imposed.Many analysts now believe that Russia is exactly where it wants to be: in between the West and Iran, enjoying the lobbying and attention of both sides. ”Being in this position of having America trying to get Russia on board makes Russia look important and equal, a strong nation,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.”If Russia delivers, it’s losing an important trump card. So Russia is consistently avoiding making firm and formal commitments on Iran.”There were reports in the Russian media that the White House had agreed it would no longer criticise Russia’s democratic failings while it courted its support on Iran.The United Nations Security Council has already imposed sanctions on Iran in each of the last three years. Russia has long been wary of responding to Iran’s nuclear program with additional sanctions. Moscow has extensive trade relations with Iran. Hopes that Russia would take a more forceful tone with Iran were raised last month after US and UN officials revealed that Iran was building a previously undisclosed facility to enrich uranium.Mr Medvedev said that ”in some cases, sanctions are inevitable”. The remark encouraged some US officials to conclude Moscow might be inching towards a tougher line on Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran insists is designed for peaceful purposes but many in the West fear will lead to the production of nuclear weapons.Mr Medvedev’s stern statement came shortly after the Obama Administration said it had decided to scrap planned missile shield installations bound for Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia had called repeatedly on the US to drop the planned sites, which it regarded as a threat.The decision to revamp the missile shield plan was widely regarded as a concession to Moscow. Many analysts believed it was the first part of a quid pro quo under which Russia would strike a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program.Los Angeles Times, Guardian News & Media, Bloomberg