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Russia to stay 'neutral' on Iran oil embargo

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(DOHA) - Russia will remain as "neutral as possible" on a possible European embargo on Iranian oil, the country's energy minister said Wednesday, warning against the "politicisation" of the energy sector.

Energy Minister Sergei Schmatko said Russia was "trying to be as neutral as possible" on the threat by the European Union last week to hit Iran's oil sector with sanctions.

"We have to avoid the politicisation of decisions related to the energy sector," Schmatko told reporters on the sidelines of the World Petroleum Congress in the Qatari capital Doha.

"It's quite obvious this decision is based on political factors," he added, referring the potential EU sanctions.

Schmatko said Russia, a leading producer of oil, does not import a "single ton of Iranian oil," adding that there is no need for the country to "join the embargo because we're not importing any Iranian oil at all."

On global concerns over Iran's nuclear programme, Schmatko said Russia prefers to deal with the issue within the body of the UN Security Council.

The EU piled up pressure on Tehran last week, beefing up sanctions over its nuclear programme, while threatening to hit its oil and finance sectors next.

The decision follows a UN agency report that strongly suggested Tehran is researching nuclear weapons, despite its claims that its atomic programme is for civilian purposes only.

Iran, the second largest oil producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), exported about 18 percent of its oil to Europe last year.

The bulk of its exports go to Asia, mainly China and India, according to figures by the US Department of Energy.

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