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Russia says no Iran sanctions for START deal: report

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will not agree to tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program in exchange for a new nuclear arms cuts deal with Washington, Interfax news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Tuesday.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama’s nuclear adviser suggested that progress on a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms pact could help persuade Moscow to be more cooperative on Iran.

“There are no reasons to link these issues or count on Russia being more cooperative in toughening sanctions against Iran if there is progress in talks with the United States on further cuts in strategic offensive weapons,” the source said.

Russia is negotiating a new nuclear arms cuts deal with the United States to replace the 1991 START-1 pact, which expires in December. It is also involved in international efforts to persuade Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program.

The sharp tone of the Russian comments contrasted with the positive mood that dominated last week during Obama’s visit to Moscow aimed at “resetting” thorny bilateral ties.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committed themselves during the talks to working on the new START pact despite outstanding disagreements over U.S. plans to deploy elements of an anti-missile system in Europe.

Obama has said that the European elements of the missile shield will not be needed if Iran halts what the West argues is a military program to create its own nuclear bomb.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has been reluctant to allow strong sanctions against Iran and has praised Obama for promising to pursue direct dialogue with Iranian leaders.

Obama’s special assistant for arms control, Gary Samore, made his comments about the potential for a change in Russia’s stance at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies last week.

“If we make concessions on strategic nuclear issues the Russians are much more willing to be cooperative when it comes to Iran,” Samore told experts.

A Kremlin source told Reuters that the exchange of remarks over START and Iran did not indicate any change in the overall atmosphere of Russia-U.S. contacts.

“It was nothing more than an exchange of remarks over a specific suggestion,” the source said.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; Editing by Lin Noueihed