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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lavrov Questions U.S. Policy

APIranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ivanov in Tehran on Sunday
Russia expects the United States to explain its growing military presence in the Middle East when the countries next meet to discuss the region, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Saturday.

"I have seen no change in Washington's fairly aggressive rhetoric," Lavrov said. "It continues, just like its actions to increase the military presence in the region. It will be one of the questions that we want to clarify in Washington. What's it all about?"

Lavrov is expected to attend a meeting of the so-called Quartet of international mediators in Washington on Feb. 2 to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations make up the Quartet.

The United States is in the process of sending an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, which it invaded in 2003, in an effort to quell an insurgency. It already has 134,000 troops in Iraq.

Washington has said it is deploying a second aircraft carrier group in the Gulf as well as Patriot missile-defense systems, steps widely seen as a warning to Iran and Syria.

The United States, which has accused Iran and Syria of being destabilizing influences in the region, maintains a significant military presence in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Lavrov said unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran would be counterproductive to efforts to resolve the problem of the country's nuclear ambitions and would force Tehran out of the negotiating process.

The United States has accused Iran of having a secret program to build nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is solely for power generation.

Russia's No. 2 diplomat, Security Council chief Igor Ivanov, held talks in Iran on Sunday.

Colonel Oleg Kulakov, an Iran expert at Moscow Military University, said Lavrov saw obvious links between the Middle East peace process, violence in Iraq and U.S. suspicions of Iraq and Syria.

"[Lavrov] thinks the involvement of Syria and Iran -- Iran in particular -- could bring some fresh air to the [Middle East] talks," he said. "Russia wants some kind of movement in this direction because the situation in the region is not developing according to the scenario written in Washington."

But Kulakov said it would be a mistake to expect much from the Washington meeting. "One meeting can't solve it," he said.

Moscow has repeatedly angered Washington with its willingness to deal with Iran, which sits just across the Caspian Sea from Russia's southern border. It regards Iran as a legitimate business partner.

Russia has sold Iran anti-aircraft missiles and helped it build a nuclear reactor at the port of Bushehr. It also watered down a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Iran that aimed to stop Tehran from enriching nuclear material for use in bombs.

Washington has hit back with sanctions on Russian defense industry firms it says were cooperating with Iran and Syria. Russia called the measures "illegal" and "vicious."

Lavrov said Iran and Syria should not be isolated, but should understand they were expected to play a positive role and in return they would receive an appropriate position in the regional dialogue.

"We are deeply convinced that Iran and Syria should not be isolated, but brought into the peace process," he said, speaking on his return from a visit to India with President Vladimir Putin.

"In general, the problems that exist in the Middle East and in the surrounding region are linked to muddle-headed ideas about prestige. Someone says something once and from then on he can't break with this principle. This is an inflexible policy, and it's shortsighted."

Kulakov said the U.S. policy of isolating Iran was an error. "If you isolate Iran there are some forces that may gain strength within the country, such as the religious clerics. If you involve Iran, you will strengthen the less religious, less extremist forces."