Iran Denies Delaying Payments on Russian-Built Nuclear Reactor

Top Iranian officials on Monday rejected claims that Tehran had been dragging its feet on payments for a Russian-built nuclear power plant, criticizing Moscow of buckling under international pressure and prolonging the reactor's launch, the official news agency reported.

Russian officials on Monday said uranium fuel deliveries to the Bushehr nuclear plant in southern Iran and the reactor's launch could fall behind schedule because of Iran's delays in payment.

But Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, denied that Iran had been late 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.

Former powerful President Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized Russia for the delay in completing the Bushehr plant, saying Tehran expected Russia to prevent actions that deny Iran's nuclear rights, IRNA reported.

"We want Russia to finish completing the Bushehr power plant as soon as possible," IRNA quoted Rafsanjani as saying.

"Extraregional powers, through dominating international institutions, are trying to ignore Iran's definite (nuclear) rights. We expect our friends (Russia) to prevent such attempts," IRNA quoted Rafsanjani, who heads the Expediency Council, a powerful clerical, as saying.

The launching of the Bushehr plant has been delayed for several years on what Russia has said are technical reasons. Last year, Russia agreed to ship fuel to the plant in southern Iran by March 2007 and launch the facility in September, with electricity generation to start by November.

Saeedi said Tehran will come up with a solution "in the coming days" to avoid any excuses for a delay in the launch of the plant.

"To resolve part of the financial problems, which is basically related to the Russian company and not Iran, we will come up with a solution in the coming days," IRNA quoted Saeedi as saying.

Russia emphasizes that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials have said repeatedly that Moscow would honor the Bushehr contract.

Putin's increasingly defiant posture toward the United States would make it highly unlikely that the Kremlin could opt out of the agreement, particularly now that U.S. concerns have been eased by an agreement obliging Iran to return spent fuel — which could potentially be used for a weapons program — to Russia.

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 an initial proposal that would have imposed curbs on the Bushehr plant was dropped.

The United States and some allies claim Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran maintains it is only for generating electricity.

Iran has been keen to get the uranium fuel from Russia, but Russian officials said it would only be delivered six months before the plant's launch.

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