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. Russia denies setting Iran ultimatum on uranium enrichment
UNITED NATIONS, March 20 (AFP) Mar 20, 2007
Russia on Tuesday denied US press reports that it had threatened to withhold nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant if Tehran fails to meet UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment.

"I can tell you that the report is not accurate, that there has been no Russian ultimatum to Iran of any kind," Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters.

"We continue to regard the Bushehr project as something that is outside the scope" of the UN sanctions resolutions.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed US, European and Iranian officials, said a senior Russian security official, Igor Ivanov, delivered the ultimatum last week to Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator Ali Hosseini Tash.

Hosseini Tash also denied the report on Tuesday.

"It was completely the opposite," he told Iranian state radio.

"Mr Ivanov was trying to convince us that the issue of Bushehr plant is not linked to the nuclear dossier."

Moscow infuriated Tehran last week by cancelling its March deadline to deliver fuel for the one-billion-dollar plant it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr.

In public statements, Russia has accused Iran of failing to make payments owed to Moscow for the Bushehr project.

European officials told the New York Times that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had informed some European governments last month that Russia had decided not to deliver the nuclear fuel and that Moscow would publicly say the sole reason was financial, the paper wrote.

A senior European Union official visiting Washington Tuesday backed up elements of the New York Times report that Russia was using the fuel delivery as leverage to get Iran to accept UN demands it suspend its nuclear fuel work.

"The relevant issue is that the Russians are delaying the supply of the fuel and today they made a very tough statement: 'We will not deliver the fuel until you comply with the UN Security Council'," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"At first this was considered an economic matter. I think that today, clearly, it goes beyond the economy, it has some political weight," the official said.

But Churkin insisted that "our deal with the Iranians (on Bushehr) is still on track."

The Bushehr plant was scheduled to be launched later this year but has been repeatedly delayed as Moscow and Tehran have argued over financing and technical difficulties.

"We are not linking it to our discussions here in New York" on new sanctions broadening those already adopted by the Security Council in December after Tehran spurned repeated UN demands to halt sensitive nuclear fuel work.

Churkin said Russia was continuing to work with its partners -- Britain, China, France, Germany and the United States -- "on the basis of our joint strategy in dealing with Iran."

The six major powers last week agreed on a package of new sanctions that are to be discussed by the full 15-member Security Council on Wednesday.

The new punitive measures would ban Iran from exporting arms, call for voluntary trade sanctions on the Islamic Republic and expand a list of officials and companies targeted for financial and travel restrictions because of their alleged links to Iran's sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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