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Iran gives Russia chance to build more reactors

Moscow, July 2 (AFP): Iran offered Russia a chance today to build more nuclear power stations in the Islamic state amid global fears that Moscow’s ongoing projects are already helping Tehran develop atomic weapons.

Iran’s atomic energy chief and vice-president Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh said officials here assured him in three days of talks that Russia intended to push ahead with its Iranian nuclear link despite protest from the US and Israel.

“Beside Bushehr, we intend to build several more nuclear power stations with the overall power capacity of 6,000 megawatts, and we are offering Russia a chance to take up this opportunity,” Aghazadeh told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Russia has been building Iran’s first nuclear power station in Bushehr, which is due to go online in 2005.

Aghazadeh’s comments appeared to refer to a memorandum Moscow and Tehran inked in July 2002. Russia then voiced its right to build a second nuclear power plant in Iran and engage in long-term atomic cooperation with a country labelled by Washington as a member of an “axis of evil”.

The 2002 document said Russia intended to build all four reactors at the southern Bushehr plant — only one is nearing completion so far — along with two more 1,000 megawatt blocks in Ahvaz, some 100 km from the Iraqi border. But political analysts at the time said Russia was mostly voicing its right to an independent Iranian policy and was still likely to bend to US and Israeli pressure to curb the nuclear programme.

The 2002 declaration was published less than two weeks after Atomic energy minister Alexander Rumyantsev declared that Bushehr would be Russia’s last nuclear project in Iran.

There was no immediate reaction from Russian officials to Aghazadeh’s latest offer, made at the end of a three-day visit to Moscow.

Aghazadeh said the trip was “very successful and has been perceived in Iran with enthusiasm because Russia reaffirmed its willingness to cooperate with Iran in the nuclear sphere, as before.”

“Russia is our most trusted partner in this area.”

He also defended Iran’s nuclear drive. “The international community has found no blemishes (in Iran’s nuclear programme) — there are none,” he added.

Russia has come under mounting pressure to reassess its policy on Iran.

-- a country sitting on vast oil reserves -- amid Western worries that Tehran is using the power station project to develop a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Moscow's response has been contradictory and difficult to read.

Some Russian ministers insist that the projects will continue while President Vladimir Putin argues that Moscow is as concerned about Tehran's reported nuclear ambitions as the West.

Moscow has been pressing Tehran to open up its nuclear program sites to UN inspectors -- something that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov did again during his meeting with Aghazadeh on Monday.

Iran says it is ready to allow closer UN inspections but only under the condition that other countries would in return assist it in developing a broader nuclear power program.

That condition has been rejected by the United States.

Meanwhile Moscow appears to be stalling Bushehr's construction and the project now is not due to go online in 2005 at the earliest.

Some here see the delay as an indirect concession to Washington and Tehran has expressed impatience with Moscow as a result.

The last stumbling block for Bushehr is the signing of a separate protocol that would require Iran to return all of the plant's spent nuclear fuel material to Russia.

The waste could theoretically be reprocessed to make nuclear weapons.

Aghazadeh said that the new Russia-Iranian protocol was ready.

"In the nearest future Moscow and Tehran will announce a date on which the additional protocol on the return of nuclear waste (to Russia) will be signed," he said.

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