Putin suspends sale of nuclear material to Iran

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Vladimir Puttin, Russia's President, suspended the sale of all nuclear material to Iran yesterday in a move calculated to cheer George Bush and allow the world's eight most powerful nations to present a united front against the spread of nuclear weapons.

The move means Iran has lost its main supply of nuclear material. The country's nuclear programme, which the Tehran government claims is for purely peaceful purposes, is largely run by Russian experts using material left over from the Cold War.

Mr Putin's announcement cleared the way for the G8 summit in Evian to issue a public warning to Iran and North Korea, the two countries President Bush bracketed together with Iraq as the "axis of evil". North Korea, unlike Iran, admits having a nuclear weapons programme.

One delighted British official said: "It is now the international consensus that the issue of weapons of mass destruction did not disappear with Saddam Hussein." The British delegation was also anxious to allay fears that this meant war with either of the two "rogue states". They said the world leaders had agreed that "not all proliferation challenges require the same remedies".

The communiqué was welcome relief for Tony Blair, whose six-day foreign tour was bedevilled by questions about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He needs to convince opinion at home that the risk that terrorists could obtain weapons of mass destruction from a rogue state is a serious threat to the West.

Iran has been told it must immediately open its nuclear programme to "comprehensive examination" by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to allay international concern that it is secretly manufacturing nuclear weapons.

The same communiqué accused North Korea of a "clear breach" of international law and urged its government to "visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle any nuclear weapons programmes".

The nine-paragraph statement, agreed yesterday by the heads of government of the US, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan, also called on all states to tighten controls on the transfer of any "materials, technology or expertise" that could be used to generate weapons of mass destruction.

It declared: "We recognise that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery poses a growing danger to us all. Together with the spread of international terrorism, it is the pre-eminent threat to international security."

Earlier, the American and French presidents gave a convincing display of a determination to work together. The two men had a private meeting at the Evian summit and then chatted in staged scene before television cameras.

Mr Bush said there had been "a difficult period" in the Franco-American relationship but went out of his way to squash suggestions that the US had been betrayed. "From the beginning, he made it very clear to me what his intentions were. There was no doubt where Jacques Chirac stood," Mr Bush said.

The French government said it had, at America's request, sent a number of special forces troops to operate with US forces in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. There are already French forces there helping to train the Afghan army, but this is the most concrete sign Washington and Paris are ready to close the Iraqi chapter.

Mr Bush gave President Chirac, the summit host, an intriguing present. M. Chirac's hobby is the study of indigenous peoples. The US President gave him three books on the history and culture of North American indians. A peace pipe? Or a warning of what happens to anyone who stands in the way of America's "manifest destiny"?

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