US clashes with Russia over Iran

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ALREADY BATTERED relations between the United States and Russia went from bad to worse yesterday as Washington threatened to stop launching American commercial satellites on Russian rockets - business worth millions of dollars to Moscow's impoverished space industry.

The move came as the Russian media was reverberating with thunderous denials of US allegations that three top Moscow scientific institutes have been helping Iran to develop nuclear weaponry and ballistic missiles. "We did not sell Iran a nuclear bomb!" said the front page headline of Segodnya newspaper.

The US national security adviser, Sandy Berger, announced sanctions on Tuesday against the Mendeleyev Chemical Technical University, the Scientific Research and Design Institute of Power and Technology and the Moscow Aviation Institute. The ban stops US companies buying from and selling to them.

At the heart of the issue is a nuclear plant that the Russians are building for Iran near the Gulf port of Bushehr. The Russians insist that the contract, signed in 1995, is a civil energy project but the Americans have long suspected that Iran is secretly using it to develop nuclear weapons.

The US, under pressure from Israel, is also alarmed by Iran's development of the Shahab-3 missile, whose range of 800 miles can reach Tel Aviv.