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Thu 28 Feb 2008 09:36 AM

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Russia warns Iran: stop enrichment or face sanctions

Moscow threatens to support new UN sanctions against Tehran.

Russia warns Iran: stop enrichment or face sanctions
STERN WARNING: Moscow threatens to support new UN sanctions against Tehran. (Getty Images)

Russia warned Iran on Wednesday that unless it ceases uranium enrichment within days, Moscow will support new UN sanctions being prepared against the Islamic republic.

The ultimatum is the strongest signal yet that Russia is toughening its stance towards Iran, which the US, Britain and France suspect of seeking nuclear weapons.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said Moscow could back a sanctions resolution the Western powers have drafted and which they want to discuss in the UN Security Council this week.

"If Iran in the next few days does not stop the enrichment activities of its heavy water project, then yes, Russia... has taken upon itself certain commitments... to support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month," Churkin told reporters via a video link from New York.

"Russia is constantly insisting that the Security Council adopt certain sanctions against Iran," he said.

Tehran denies it has a nuclear weapons programme and says it has a right to enrich uranium.

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, has in recent weeks criticised Iran's test launch of a rocket and warned it not to ignore the international community.

It has urged Iran's leadership to give full information on its nuclear programme to the UN's nuclear watchdog.

Russia's support for sanctions appears to mark a shifting of stance. Moscow has a long history of cooperation of Iran.

The new sanctions resolution formally submitted by France and Britain calls for measures including asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for individual Iranian officials.

It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions. Earlier rounds of sanctions were imposed in December 2006 and March 2007.

Russia is helping to build Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant and this year finished delivering nuclear fuel to the plant under a $1 billion contract, which Moscow says removes any reason for Tehran to enrich uranium.

Iran, which has the world's second largest gas reserves, last year proposed establishing an Opec-style gas cartel with Russia, the world's largest gas producer. The idea has met strong opposition in Europe and the US.

Moscow played down the Iranian proposal but its gas export monopoly Gazprom agreed this month with Tehran to jointly develop new phases of Iran's giant South Pars gas field. (Reuters)