BEIJING (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned major powers against intimidating Iran and said talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program was "premature."
Putin, who many diplomats, analysts, and Russian citizens believe is still Russia's paramount leader despite stepping down as president last year, was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow for two days of talks.
"There is no need to frighten the Iranians," Putin told reporters in Beijing after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
"We need to look for a compromise. If a compromise is not found, and the discussions end in a fiasco, then we will see."
Putin continued: "And if now, before making any steps [towards holding talks] we start announcing some sanctions, then we won't be creating favorable conditions for [talks] to end positively. This is why it is premature to talk about this now."
Clinton failed to secure any specific assurances from Russia on Iran during her visit, leaving her open to criticism at home that she had not received anything from Moscow after earlier U.S. concessions on missile defense.
Clinton said she would have liked to have seen Putin but that their agendas did not coincide. Putin left for a trip to the Russian Far East and China before her arrival in Moscow.
On the contentious issue of missile defense, which has divided Russia and the United States in the past, Putin said he hoped the United States would not renege on its promise to scrap plans for an antimissile system in central Europe.
"We are being guided by what the head of the American state is saying," Putin said. "He said there would be no antimissile shield in Europe. We are satisfied by this statement, and to make assumptions what happens next is not quite right."
Moscow had opposed plans by previous U.S. President George W. Bush to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic, viewing this as a direct threat to Russia's national security.
Putin said, however, that Moscow "feels no euphoria" about Bush's successor Barack Obama's promise to roll back the shield plans.
"We treated this decision with reserve, calmly," he said. "In any case, the country's leadership accepted it with understanding and gratitude. We believe this was Obama's right and courageous decision."