Australia to tell Russia no uranium sales to Iran

( Reuters ) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday he would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would not approve the sale of uranium to Moscow if there was any possibility it could be resold to Iran or Syria.

Howard said he would put Putin "through the ropes" when he meets him on Friday in Sydney on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific leaders' forum.

"The condition on our selling uranium is that we obtain the guarantees necessary to satisfy us that it won't go to Iran and Syria," Howard told local radio.

"We will be taking the Russians through the ropes in relation to any arrangement we have and we will be wanting to satisfy ourselves completely that won't occur," Howard said.

Australia, with 40 percent of the world's reserves of uranium, exports the mineral to 36 nations and hopes to sign a deal with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies Western accusations he is seeking nuclear bombs, saying Iran's nuclear program is meant to generate electricity.

Iran, the world's fourth largest crude exporter, has said it wants to build a network of nuclear power plants with a capacity of 20,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020 to enable it to export more of its valuable oil and gas.

Russia is Iran's closest major ally and has helped water down international sanctions against Tehran.

Asked by Australian media whether Russia could be trusted not to onsell uranium to Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Moscow was fully aware of concerns about the development of nuclear weapons in Iran.

"I really suspect that the Russians understand the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon," Rice said late on Wednesday in Sydney.

"Let's remember that Iran is an awful lot closer to Russia than it is to the United State or to Australia. I know that they would be very careful about the proliferation of any material to Iran," Rice said.

Washington accuses Iran and Syria of supporting terrorism and bars both countries from receiving U.S. exports and controls sales of items with military and civilian uses.

Australia recently ended a ban on uranium sales to India, reversing a policy of selling the nuclear fuel only to Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories.

Australia is currently negotiating safeguards for A$250 million ($205 million) worth of uranium exports to Beijing. Japan is also set to sign a deal with Australia to secure uranium for civilian nuclear energy use, Kyodo news agency said on Wednesday.

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