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ARAB-EUROPEAN RELATIONS - Feb 27 - Iran And Russia Sign Nuclear Fuel Deal.

Russia and Iran sign a nuclear fuel supply deal long opposed by US, paving the way for Iran to start up its first atomic reactor next year. The agreement, inked by the two countries' nuclear energy chiefs at the Bushehr atomic plant in southern Iran, comes as Tehran faced heightened pressure from the US, which accuses it of secretly developing nuclear weapons. Iran, OPEC's second largest oil producer, denies the charge and has received strong backing from Moscow, which is keen to play a major role in expanding Iran's nuclear energy programme. "This is a very important incident in the ties between the two countries and in the near future a number of Russian experts will be sent to Bushehr to equip the power station", Iranian state TV quoted Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency, as saying. A key part of the agreement obliges Tehran to repatriate all spent nuclear fuel to Russia. Moscow hopes this will allay US worries that Iran may use the spent fuel, which could be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium, to develop arms. The IAEA, which has been probing Iran's nuclear programme for over two years, said it would also keep a careful eye on Tehran's use of the fuel. Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said inspectors would "monitor closely the use of the fuel and where it goes" as part of agency safeguards monitoring aimed at ensuring no nuclear materials are diverted to any covert weapons activities. Rumyantsev said Bushehr would start operating in late 2006. "We are planning the physical launch at the end of 2006. About half a year before this the first delivery of fuel will take place", the Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying. Iranian officials put the plant's launch about six months earlier in mid-2006. Diplomats in Tehran said they may have been referring to the reactor's initial test phase. Rumyantsev said the first batch of enriched uranium fuel was in Siberia ready to be shipped. Disagreements over the timing of the shipment had delayed the deal. Tehran wanted Russia to send the fuel earlier, Iranian officials said. Iran said long delays in signing the agreement, which has been under negotiation for more than two years, were technical and had nothing to do with pressure exerted by Washington, which wants Russia to halt nuclear cooperation with Iran. Once operational, Bushehr will generate 1,000 MW of electricity. Initiated before Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and badly damaged during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the project was later revived with Russian help and has cost about $800m. Iran has announced plans to build several more power plants, generating 7,000 MW from nuclear power by 2021. Russia hopes to claim a significant share of this new business. The Bushehr power station has aroused less concern in the West than Iran's plans to produce its own nuclear fuel for future reactors using uranium mined, processed and enriched inside the country. The EU and US want Iran to scrap its uranium enrichment plans entirely. Iran has refused but has suspended enrichment while it tries to reach a negotiated settlement with the EU.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 5, 2005
Words:519
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