AP: The launch of a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Iran could be delayed because Iran has fallen behind in payments, Russian officials said Monday. Top Iranian officials swiftly denied that payments had been disrupted, in the latest dispute surrounding the deal at the heart of the two countries’ nuclear cooperation. Associated Press
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) – The launch of a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Iran could be delayed because Iran has fallen behind in payments, Russian officials said Monday. Top Iranian officials swiftly denied that payments had been disrupted, in the latest dispute surrounding the deal at the heart of the two countries’ nuclear cooperation.
Last year, Russia agreed to ship nuclear fuel to Bushehr – Iran’s first nuclear plant – by March 2007 and launch the facility in September, with electricity generation to start by November. Under a separate deal, Iran agreed to return to Russia all spent fuel from the plant in southern Iran for reprocessing – a move intended to assuage global concerns that the fuel could be diverted to make nuclear weapons.
Iran broke the schedule of payments this year under the $1 billion contract, said a Russian official, who asked not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He said the Iranians blamed the delay on the need to switch payments from dollars to euros.
“The launch schedule definitely could be affected,” Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russia’s nuclear power agency, told The Associated Press.
But Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, denied that Iran had been late in making payments.
“Iran has had no delay whatsoever in making payments for the Bushehr nuclear power plant to the Russian … company,” Saeedi was quoted as saying by the news agency, IRNA.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president who now heads a powerful clerical body called the Expediency Council, hinted that Russia was buckling under international pressure.
“We expect our friends (Russia) to prevent such attempts,” IRNA quoted Rafsanjani as saying.
The dispute came amid persistent diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment in order to allay international fears that it could be seeking nuclear weapons.
But while a delay in launching Bushehr is likely to anger Iran, there was no indication that Russia could be maneuvering to scrap the deal, which has provoked Western criticism. Russia emphasizes that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program, and President Vladimir Putin and other officials have said repeatedly the Bushehr contract would be honored.
Putin’s increasingly defiant posture toward the United States would make it highly unlikely that the Kremlin would opt out of the agreement.
“Russia remains firmly committed to the Bushehr deal, and Putin’s recent statements make a change in attitude highly improbable,” said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Heritage Foundation’s Moscow office.
In December, Russia supported a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing limited sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop uranium enrichment, but the support came only after a proposal imposing restrictions on the Bushehr plant was dropped.
The United States and some allies claim Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons; Iran maintains it is only intended to generate electricity.
Iran has been eager to get the nuclear fuel from Russia, but Russian officials said it would only be delivered six months before the plant’s launch.
Prodded by the Iranians about the delivery, Igor Ivanov, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said on a recent trip to Tehran that it would be delivered “when the need comes.”
Russian nuclear officials have complained before about payment delays for Bushehr.
Sergei Shmatko, the chief of the state Atomstroiexport company building the plant, said in December that Iran already had paid Russia $900 million for the plant’s construction. He added, however, that his company had provided a $140 million loan to Iran to finance construction because the Iranians had been slow about payments recently.