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Russia supports 'peaceful' nuclear drive in Iran
BEIJING — Russia supports Tehran's atomic programme as long as it is "peaceful", President Vladimir Putin told Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Thursday ahead of global talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The Iranian president, meanwhile, called for more cooperation between Iran and Russia as NATO "sets its sights on the east", in a likely reference to a missile defence system currently being deployed by the Western alliance.
"We have always supported the right of the Iranian people to modern technologies, including the peaceful use of atomic energy," Putin told Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Beijing.
"But I want to emphasise that it is peaceful that we are talking about. You know our position."
The West believes Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian programme but Tehran insists its intentions are purely peaceful, and the situation has brought about a shaky standoff.
The talks between the two leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit -- the first since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term -- come as Russia prepares to host the latest round of global talks on Iran.
The June 18 and 19 meeting between world powers and Iranian negotiators will try to find a diplomatic solution to the current standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Russia has in the past urged Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to clear up any suspicions about the nature of its nuclear programme.
But it has never explicitly backed Western claims that Iran is seeking to develop an atomic weapon -- a stance reiterated on Thursday.
"We are very strong supporters of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons," Putin said.
"But we know your position and the position of all the Iranian leadership, which is that Iran is not working on the creation of a nuclear weapon. We are proceeding based on this."
Putin's comments came after leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's member states issued a statement Thursday opposing any use of force in Iran, saying it could threaten global security.
"Any attempts to solve the Iranian problem with force are unacceptable and could lead to unpredictable circumstances that threaten stability and security in the region and the entire world," said the statement signed at the end of a summit.
In his talks with Putin, Ahmadinejad called for "serious and broader cooperation between Iran and Russia" due to developments "in the region and the world".
"Iran and Russia are now on the same side of the barricades," he told Putin.
"There are people who stand against the progress and development of both Russia and Iran. Especially considering that now, NATO has set its sights on the east," he said.
Ahmadinejad was likely referring to a NATO defence system that is being deployed over several years to protect Europeans from the threat of ballistic missiles from countries such as Iran.