Russia warned Tuesday that Iran would have no option but to develop nuclear weapons if it came under attack from either the United States or Israel over its contested atomic programme.
"The CIA and other US officials admit they now have no information about the Iranian leadership taking the political decision to produce nuclear weapons," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Moscow's Kommersant FM radio.
"But I am almost certain that such a decision will surely be taken after (any) strikes on Iran," Lavrov said.
The pre-recorded interview was aired shortly after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that his country was ready to strike back against either the United States or Israel "at the same level as they attack us".
Moscow has close military and commercial ties with Tehran and has only grudgingly backed four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons development drive.
But Lavrov argued that Russia was not defending an ally but trying to avert a broader conflict or possible nuclear arms race from breaking out in the region.
He added that Israel's threats against Iran were only pushing other nations on poor terms with the West to consider pursuing their own nuclear weapon drives.
"This happening... around Iran are forcing a lot of Third World countries to pause and realise that if you have a nuclear bomb, no one will really bother you.
"You might get some light sanctions, but people will always coddle you, they will court you and try to convince you of things," Lavrov said.
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He particularly raised the case of North Korea and its decision to both develop and test nuclear weapons -- a move that was never followed by a threat of an attack from the United States.
"But we are all behaving responsibly" toward North Korea, said Lavrov.
"We are not proposing to bomb North Korea. We are all insisting on the immediate resumption of negotiations and looking for ways to make these negotiations productive."
He also repeated arguments from some Western military analysts saying that strikes could only set back but not permanently destroy any weapons programme Iran might have today.
"Scientists of almost all nations... agree that strikes against Iran can slow its nuclear programme. But do away with it, close it, eliminate it -- never."
Lavrov's comments represented one of Russia's most impassioned arguments to date against the start of another war on its southern periphery.
Russia had previously cautioned that such a campaign could lead to a mass flood of refugees to neighbouring countries like Azerbaijan. It has also warned of the dangers of possible reprisal attack from Iran.
But Lavrov appeared ready to drop that argument on Tuesday by noting that an attack against Israel could also endanger the lives of Palestinians.
"I am absolutely convinced that Iran will never decide to do this, if only because... a threat to destroy Israel will also destroy Palestine," he said.
He also went out of his way to strongly criticise Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for repeatedly threatening to destroy the Jewish state.
"This is completely unacceptable... and we categorically condemn it," Lavrov said. "It is simply uncivilised and unworthy of a country as ancient as Iran."