ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Iran warned Russia on Tuesday against siding with Tehran's foes in supporting fresh U.N. sanctions over its nuclear dispute with the West.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest admonishment of Moscow, until recently an ally, came a day before the Security Council could vote to impose a fourth round of sanctions, which Russia is expected to support.
"There is no big problem, but they must be careful not to be on the side of the enemies of the Iranian people," Ahmadinejad told a news conference in Istanbul, where he was attending a summit along with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Tehran and Moscow recently clashed over Kremlin support for draft U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Putin, who will meet Ahmadinejad on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Istanbul, said the Security Council resolution has been "practically agreed" but that sanctions should not be "excessive".
"The president of Iran is here and I think we will see each other within the framework of the conference," Putin told a joint news conference with host Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
"We will have an opportunity to discuss these problems if my Iranian colleague will have such a need," he said.
"I hold the opinion that this resolution should not be excessive, should not put Iran's leadership, the Iranian people in a tricky situation that creates barriers on the way of development of Iran's peaceful nuclear energy," Putin said.
The Iranian president said a nuclear fuel swap deal agreed by Tehran with Turkey and Brazil was an opportunity that would not be repeated. The deal, which has been rejected by the West as too little too late, was intended to defuse the crisis.
Turkey and Brazil last month resurrected parts of a U.N.-backed offer for Tehran to part with 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium -- which is potential nuclear weapons material -- in return for special fuel rods for a medical research reactor. Ahmadinejad said the swap deal was a one-time offer.
"We hope and still hope they will be able to use this opportunity, but we say this opportunity will not be repeated," he said.
The United States and other powers have rejected the deal and submitted extended sanctions to the Security Council last month for approval.
Turkey and Brazil, both in the 15-member Security Council, say their deal with Iran removes the need for sanctions, as it created a diplomatic opening to tackle larger issues surrounding Tehran's nuclear programme.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul urged Ahmadinejad on Monday to tell the international community his government was ready to cooperate and solve the dispute over its nuclear programme.
ISRAEL LOOMS OVER FORUM
Israel's raid last week of a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza has overshadowed the Istanbul summit which would normally attract little attention.
Turkey will use the summit to urge its Middle Eastern and Asian neighbours to step up pressure on Israel over the killing of nine Turks, which has brought Turkey-Israel ties close to breaking point.
Israel has already rejected a United Nations call for an international inquiry into its seizure of the ship, but Turkey, flexing its diplomatic muscle as one of the biggest military and economic powers in the region, is not giving up.
Until recently, Turkey had largely avoided getting embroiled in conflicts in its eastern backyard as it pursued its goal of joining the European Union.
But Erdogan's strident criticism of Israel and his championing of the Palestinian cause after an Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2008 has turned him into a hero in the Middle East.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an enemy of Israel, said on Monday "Turkish blood is not different from Arab blood."
It is doubtful whether the final declaration will contain a condemnation of Israel or a call for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza immediately as Turkey is lobbying, since the wording has to be reached by consensus, and Israel is a member.
Turkey has received messages of support from other Muslim countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Qatar and, of course, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Russia has also backed Turkey, with whom it has signed several energy deals recently. "We are for the end of the Gaza blockade as soon as possible," Putin said.
Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member and a candidate to join the European Union, has sought to raise its international profile in recent years, mediating in issues ranging from Afghanistan/Pakistan ties to Iran's nuclear programme.
On Wednesday, Arab League foreign ministers are due to meet in Istanbul for talks with their Turkish counterpart. (Additional reporting by Jon Hemming in Istanbul; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; editing by Samia Nakhoul)
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