TASHKENT Russia appeared to rule out full Iranian membership of a Central Asian regional security bloc on Friday, saying countries under U.N. sanctions could not join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Two days after backing sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council, Moscow signalled at the annual summit of the six-nation SCO that it was moving towards the West's stronger position on restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Kremlin suggested it might also forego selling missiles to Tehran.
Iran has observer status within the SCO.
"If the Security Council has imposed sanctions, such a country cannot become a full member," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, making no specific reference to Iran.
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has upstaged previous events. In a snub to the West at last year's meeting, SCO leaders congratulated him on a disputed election victory.
Ahmadinejad did not travel to this year's meeting in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. Lavrov said the Iranian leader had been invited but declined to attend.
Members of the SCO, led by Russia and China, approved new rules on membership of the body, which focuses on security issues in Central Asia. Ex-Soviet states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are also full members.
As well as barring countries under U.N. sanctions, the document, seen by Reuters, limits membership to countries within the Eurasian continent who have diplomatic relations with other members and are either SCO observers or dialogue partners.
Pakistan, India and Mongolia -- as well as Iran -- are observers. Belarus and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners.
Iran was represented by its foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who described the latest U.N. sanctions as "unfair and devoid of legal grounds". In a speech to the summit he said Iran was "above political games".
SANCTIONS HURT RUSSIA-IRAN TIES
The Security Council voted on Wednesday to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Western countries suspect aims to develop an atom bomb. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Russia and China, veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members, worked to water down the sanctions against Iran, but voted in favour of them. Moscow's support for the sanctions has soured its traditionally close ties with Iran.
A Kremlin source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.N. sanctions preclude Russian sales of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. Moscow had in the past maintained it could sell the missiles to Tehran despite strong objections from Israel and the United States.
Ahmadinejad on Tuesday warned the Kremlin against siding with "Iran's enemies" in supporting sanctions. The Kremlin reacted to similar comments in May by telling Iran's leader to refrain from "political demagoguery".
The SCO also called for calm in Kyrgyzstan after at least 23 people were killed in the deadliest outbreak of violence since the popular revolt that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.
Interim foreign minister Ruslan Kazakbayev, representing Kyrgyzstan at the meeting, said "destructive forces" and "criminal elements" were trying to foment inter-ethnic conflict.
"The actions agreed by the SCO helped avert civil war in Kyrgyzstan (in April)," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said. "We must continue the work that we have agreed."
Chinese President Hu Jintao cited threats from the global financial crisis, extremist forces and drug trafficking among the major problems facing Central Asia.
"Factors of instability and uncertainty in this region have clearly increased," he said.
Hu also proposed establishing legal agreements to protect oil and gas pipelines crossing the region. China is becoming a major consumer of Central Asian energy, with the Kazakh-China pipeline now supplying 4 percent of Beijing's crude oil imports.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Writing by Robin Paxton in Almaty)