updated 3/27/2007 6:42:38 PM ET 2007-03-27T22:42:38

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday criticized the United States for what it called over-reliance on force and warned Washington against military action against Iran.

But in a major review of foreign policy priorities, the ministry said Russia was ready to cooperate to end global crises if Washington treats it as an equal partner.

The statement reflects Russia's growing confidence and economic clout, and appears to be a signal to Washington that, while the two nations can work together, Russia will not always follow the U.S. lead. It also plays to national pride in advance of parliamentary and presidential elections.

Russia criticized what it called "the creeping American strategy of dragging the global community into a large-scale crisis around Iran," saying that Iran helps maintain stability in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

At the same time, the ministry's paper assailed Iran for its "unconstructive" stance, reflecting growing Kremlin irritation with its ally's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, as the U.N. demands.

Russia and China, both permanent U.N. Security Council members with significant trade ties with Iran, have opposed U.S. efforts to impose harsh sanctions against the country. But years of growing international mistrust over Iran's ultimate goals led to initial U.N. sanctions in December and to tougher penalties imposed last Saturday.

Iran has remained defiant, rejecting the latest sanctions and announcing a partial suspension of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. It also accused Russia of caving in to Western pressure.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that the latest set of sanctions was a "call for the resumption of talks rather than an instrument of punishment" — a statement apparently aimed both at soothing Iran and assuring Russians public that their government was not betraying its partner.

The ministry's paper emphasized the need to conduct a "balanced course on Iran, protecting our national interests in that country while preventing violations of the nuclear non-proliferation regime."

The ministry also hinted that Russia would tie weapons sales to Iran to its cooperation on the enrichment program. "Military-technical ties with Iran must develop on the basis of strict compliance with Russia's international obligations while taking into account developments related to the Iranian nuclear program," it said.

Russia recently delivered 29 Tor M-1 air defense missile systems to Iran despite strong U.S. complaints.

The strategy paper said that arms exports would remain an important component of Russia's foreign policy.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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