Iran says its first nuclear reactor, being built with the help of Russia, will not go on line until October 2006, a year later than planned. The International Atomic Energy Agency's governing body will be discussing the question of Iran's nuclear program at a meeting in September, amid international concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran had said its nuclear reactor would go on line in 2003. That date was then pushed back to late 2005 by Russian nuclear experts, who are helping to build Iran's first nuclear reactor.
Several nations, including the United States, have accused Tehran of using its nuclear program as a cover to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has insisted its more than 20-year-old nuclear program is solely for the purpose of producing electricity.
Iranian expert Amal Hamada, who teaches at Cairo University, says the Iranian announcement may be an effort to allay international concerns regarding the purpose of its nuclear program.
"You cannot deny the international pressure on Iran and on its nuclear partners Russia, China, Korea," said Ms. Hamada. "And, the pressure has had its effect regarding the delay in delivering nuclear fuel or the required technology to finish the phases they are doing now."
The deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Asadollah Sabouri, acknowledged Sunday that part of the delay could be attributed to what he called Tehran's "precise attention" to international standards.
However, another factor is the failure of an agreement with Russia, which plans to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran, on the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia. That fuel could be used in the production of bomb-grade material.
Ms. Hamada says the announcement could have, in part, been triggered by recent discussion about whether Israel might attempt to bomb Iran's nuclear facility. Israel has not directly threatened to attack the facility, but says it will not allow Tehran to have a nuclear bomb.
"They are trying to buy time by saying it will not be done by 2006. They may be trying to lessen the pressure on them, especially with the Israeli threats in the last few weeks," she said. "So, maybe they're trying to send a message to the international community that, 'we are not that developed yet. You don't have to worry that much about our program. You can wait another year.' So, maybe it's sending a signal."
Iran says it ultimately plans to produce its own nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment procedures, which is cause for the greatest concern among nations that suspect Tehran of developing a secret weapons program.