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Russia Concerned By Iran Nuclear Plans

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia is seriously concerned by Iranian plans to expand its uranium-enrichment program, local news agencies have quoted a source in Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying.

"Russia is seriously concerned by the latest statements of the Iranian leadership," the source was quoted as saying.

Iran announced plans on November 29 to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants in a major expansion of its atomic program, just days after the UN nuclear watchdog rebuked it for carrying out such work in secret.

Russia, which backed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution censuring Iran, last week called on the Islamic Republic to react seriously to the signal that international community was trying to send.

Russia has so far refused to publicly support calls by the United States for the threat of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. The West believes Iran is trying to build atomic weapons, a charge denied by Tehran.

Russia's Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko was in Iran on November 30 for a visit to the Bushehr nuclear power station, which a Russian state-owned company is helping to build.

France Offers 'Last Chance'

Iran should be given a "last chance" in talks over its atomic program, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said after the Iranian announcement of broadening uranium-enrichment.

Asked in an interview with "Le Figaro" newspaper published today whether tougher UN sanctions on Iran would be a true deterrent, Kouchner said, "Let's give dialogue a last chance and give the necessary space to the European Union which, from January 1 2010, will finally be in working order."

The EU this month strengthened its regulatory and law-making powers and named new European Commission members, a president and foreign policy chief.

"Why did Iran announce 10 new uranium enrichment sites [on November 29] when it has only one nuclear plant to burn this fuel?" said Kouchner.

"The fact that Iran persists in ignoring the demands of a big independent agency like the IAEA, that's very dangerous."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said Iran should be given until the end of the year to accept international terms for talks over its nuclear ambitions or face further sanctions.