Friday, September 08, 2006

Russia to stop Iran plant if inspectors expelled

YNet News:
A high-ranking Russian source on Friday said Moscow would stop building Iran's first atomic power reactor if the Islamic Republic expelled UN nuclear inspectors as part of its dispute with the West.

Moscow has long refused to link the Bushehr plant to the crisis over Iran's atomic ambitions, which Washington says are a cover for a nuclear weapons program but Tehran insists will only be used for peaceful purposes. READ MORE

And Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's atomic agency, on Friday used an interview with Reuters to reiterate the official position that Bushehr was fully under United Nations control, and need not be linked to non-proliferation worries.

He said the construction was going according to plan, that the reactor would start up in September next year, and that nuclear fuel would be delivered in March or April.

But the source made clear any Iranian attempt to break with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, would trigger a halt.

"If Iran expels the IAEA inspectors, we will immediately halt our work," the source said.

"I think the reason Iran has not expelled the inspectors yet is that they do not want us to stop our work," he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied the report. According to the IRNA news agency, Lavrov referred to the report as "a provocation, saying that "many are trying to worsen the situation around the Iranian nuclear program."

Iranian officials have often threatened to "review" cooperation with the IAEA if the UN Security Council imposes sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.

'Iran made a mistake in turning down UN'

Iran's parliament is also currently studying a bill which would oblige the government to halt all IAEA inspections if the UN Security Council "decides to deprive the Iranian nation of its legal rights" to a civilian atomic power program.

Iran last week ignored a Security Council demand that it stop uranium enrichment - a process that can be used to make atomic reactor fuel or weapons-grade material - by August 31.

Russia's contract to build the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant was signed in 1992.

"A realistic deadline (for transmitting power to the grid) is November 2007. This means a physical start-up (of the reactor) in September and the dispatch of fuel ... six months earlier," Kiriyenko told Reuters in an interview. "That means March or April."

Washington has pushed Russia to stop building the plant, saying Iran could use the atomic know-how to make weapons. But Kiriyenko said the construction at Bushehr was being carried out under IAEA control and should not be seen as a threat.

"From my understanding there are no objective grounds for the building of Bushehr to fall under sanctions," he said.

Russia has consistently postponed the plant's opening date, citing technical difficulties caused by the need to build it on foundations left unfinished by 1979 Iranian revolution.

But the source hinted the postponements could have been designed to help pressure Iran into agreeing with the UN.

"We have never before confirmed that the deadlines were moved for specific reasons," he said.

"In my opinion Iran made a mistake in turning down the UN.. .but perhaps saving face is their most important thing."