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Thu 18 Oct 2007 03:43 PM

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Dialogue best way to resolve tensions over Iran

Russian President Putin says threat of military force or sanctions not answer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that direct dialogue was a better way of easing the diplomatic crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions than the threat of military force or sanctions.

Putin, speaking at an annual question-and-answer session, brushed aside a reported plot to kill him on a visit to Tehran this week.

"Direct dialogue with the leaders of states around which certain problems accumulate is always more productive and is the shortest path to success, rather than a policy of threats, sanctions, and all the more so a resolution to use force," he said.

His comments were a clear swipe at the US, which has not ruled out using force against Iran over its nuclear programme which Washington says is intended to develop weapons and not just peaceful energy generation as Tehran insists.

Putin visited Tehran on Tuesday, the first time a Kremlin leader has been to Iran since Josef Stalin in 1943. Russian contractors are also building Iran's first atomic power plant although Moscow has backed two sets of limited UN sanctions on Iran.

Just before the visit, Putin said he had seen no evidence that Tehran's programme has military aims.

In Tehran, he met Iranian leaders including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top cleric, who has the final say on all state matters including nuclear policy.

Putin also invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Moscow for talks.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, has been alarmed by the possibility that the US might launch a military attack on Iran.

It is also resisting a push by the US and its EU allies for a third round of tougher steps to put pressure Iran to stop work that could lead to bomb-making.

As a result, major powers have agreed to delay new sanctions until November to see if Iran's deal with UN inspectors to clear up suspicions about its intentions yields results and to await a report by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Washington has refused to rule out the use of force if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.

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