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NATO wants Russia to press Iran on nuclear plans

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO urged Russia on Friday to help other global powers put the maximum possible diplomatic pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the appeal before talks on October 1 between Iran and world powers including the United States, and as part of proposals to improve cooperation between the defense alliance and Moscow.

His comments followed remarks by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which the Kremlin leader said he did not rule out new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

“What I would expect is that Russia will join us in putting maximum political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop Iran’s nuclear aspirations,” Rasmussen said in a speech in Brussels.

“Many international experts believe that we are at a nuclear tipping point. If North Korea stays nuclear, and if Iran becomes nuclear, some of their neighbors might feel compelled to follow their example. Such a multi-nuclear world is not in NATO’s interests, and it’s definitely not in Russia’s interest either.”

Rasmussen also proposed cooperation with Russia on missile defense after Washington abandoned plans on Thursday to build an anti-missile system in Europe that had been intended as protection against attack by a rogue state such as Iran.

Iran has said repeatedly it is enriching uranium only to generate electricity, not to build an atomic bomb.

It says it will not abandon its nuclear program to appease its critics and that it will not agree to use the October 1 meeting to negotiate away its right to the program.

But it has presented proposals to world powers in which it said it was willing to address global nuclear disarmament and other international issues.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who came into office pledging a policy of engagement toward Iran, has suggested Tehran may face harsher international sanctions if it does not accept good-faith talks by the end of September.

In an apparent softening of Russia’s position, Medvedev said on Tuesday it was not only the West which was concerned about Iran. But a few days earlier, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had ruled out sanctions.

Lavrov said the United Nations Security Council -- on which Russia has a permanent seat and a veto -- would not support oil sanctions against Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil exporter and a major importer of gasoline.

Editing by Sophie Hares