Reuters: A senior Russian nuclear official said yesterday that an atomic reactor Moscow is building for Iran, long a stumbling block in Russian-US relations, faced further delays.
Diplomatic sources and specialists in Moscow have said President Vladimir Putin's growing recognition of Washington's concerns over Iran's nuclear program have pressured the Kremlin into delaying until the International Atomic Energy Agency determines that Iran's nuclear program is in compliance
with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Reuters

By Maria Golovnina

MOSCOW -- A senior Russian nuclear official said yesterday that an atomic reactor Moscow is building for Iran, long a stumbling block in Russian-US relations, faced further delays.

Diplomatic sources and specialists in Moscow have said President Vladimir Putin's growing recognition of Washington's concerns over Iran's nuclear program have pressured the Kremlin into delaying until the International Atomic Energy Agency determines that Iran's nuclear program is in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But the Russian official, speaking just days before the UN nuclear watchdog meets in Vienna to discuss Iran, said the delay was of a technical nature and had nothing to do with US pressure on Russia to ditch the Bushehr project.

''It won't be launched till 2006. Unfortunately the launch is again facing delays, and the delays are for objective reasons," said the Russian Atomic Energy Agency official. ''There are certain technicalities remaining to be settled."

In August, Asadollah Sabouri, a senior Iranian nuclear official, said the plant would not start working until October 2006, but Russia's atomic authority then swiftly rebuffed the statement, saying the plant would go on stream in 2005 as previously planned. Russia has been building the plant in southern Iran since the early 1990s despite strong criticism from Washington, which says Tehran can use Russian know-how to make atomic arms.

Washington, which says Iran seeks weapons of mass destruction, also fears Iran would use the 1,000-megawatt, $800 million plant as a cover for the transfer of other sensitive nuclear technology.

Yesterday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking after his recent meeting with Putin, called Iran's nuclear activities ''extremely alarming" and said Russia would help to ensure Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran says it has no atomic weapons plans. Moscow also denies any suggestion that Tehran could make a bomb on the basis of the power station's technology.

The UN nuclear watchdog said in June it was unconcerned by Russia's construction of the plant.

To allay US concerns Iran could extract plutonium from spent fuel at Bushehr, Russia has pledged to sign a deal with Iran to oblige it to return all fuel to Russia after a decade of use.

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