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Dmitry Medvedev gave the first hint today that Russia is prepared to perform a major policy U-turn and support US moves for sanctions against Iran.
Speaking in Moscow, the Russian President went out of his way to be more conciliatory with the West ahead of his visit to the US later this month where he will attend the United Nations General Assembly Meeting in New York and the G20 summit of economic powers in Pittsburgh.
A key issue on the agenda will be efforts by America, Britain and France to impose economic sanctions against Tehran, if the regime does not agree to curb its controversial nuclear programme. It is widely expected that President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who will also be in New York, will reject any pressure from the international community.
So far Russia has dug in its heels and refused to join the move to sanctions on Iran, not least because it enjoys strong trade relations with the country.
But today Mr Medvedev said: “Sanctions are not very effective on the whole, but sometimes you have to embark on sanctions and they can be right.”
His remarks contradicted his own Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who only last week ruled out sanctions. The possibility of a Russian U-turn will come as a huge relief to Western diplomats who had largely given up on Russia supporting them.
The trade sanctions against Iran would need the support of all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the US, Britain, China, France and Russia. If Russia joined the Western nations Beijing would be expected to drop its objections.
Reaching an international consensus on Iran is seen by many as the only way to force the regime into serious negotiations and avoid the threat of Israeli unilateral military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities before the country can build its first atomic bomb.
Mr Medvedev appeared relaxed and certainly more confident about his leadership when he met journalists and academics of the Valdai Discussion Club at Moscow’s famous GUM department store next to the Kremlin.
At the same meeting last year - in the aftermath of Russian war with Georgia - he seemed far more tense and edgy particularly when asked who was really running Russia, him or Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister.