Thursday, May 05, 2005

US wants Russia minister over Iran

The United States is seeking the extradition of a former Russian atomic energy minister because he may have sensitive information on Moscow's nuclear ties with Iran, Russia's ex-security chief said on Thursday.

The former minister, Yevgeny Adamov, was arrested in Switzerland this week at the request of the United States, which suspects him of stealing Washington funds sent to boost Russia's nuclear security.

But Nikolai Kovalyov, who headed Russia's FSB security service in the 1990s when Adamov was minister, said the main reason behind the arrest was Russia's dealings with Iran, accused by Washington of secretly developing nuclear arms.

"The U.S. authorities will try to persuade him to cooperate with the investigation ... and admit to having helped Iran acquire nuclear technologies," he said in remarks shown on state-owned First Channel television. READ MORE

"I think that is why ... this whole mess has been created."

The channel tends to closely trail the Kremlin's official line. The U.S. embassy in Moscow was unavailable for comment.

Moscow has had close nuclear contacts with Iran since the early 1990s. Russian engineers are building a nuclear power station for the Islamic Republic -- and Washington says Tehran could theoretically use Russian know-how to acquire atom bombs.

Russia and Iran have always said their nuclear cooperation is entirely peaceful.

"Russia's position is unchanged ... Russia is strictly abiding by all international agreements, including of course with Iran, and Russia has never given it any help," Kovalyov said.

Adamov, who is resisting the U.S. extradition request, was a minister under Boris Yeltsin. But he was ousted after President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 following a probe into his ties to Russian businessmen.

Washington has up to 60 days to present a formal extradition request.

Before his job in the ministry, Adamov headed the NIKIET nuclear research institute in Moscow, which was at the center of high-profile Soviet-era atomic projects.

The United States imposed economic sanctions on NIKIET in the late 1990s due to its suspected involvement in helping Iran acquire technology related to heavy water reactors. Adamov has always denied this and sanctions were removed last year.