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Russia Announces Delay of Controversial Iranian Nuclear Plant

Russia Announces Delay of Controversial Iranian Nuclear Plant
Russia Announces Delay of Controversial Iranian Nuclear Plant

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Russia says the controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant it is helping build in Iran will not go into service by the end of the year as planned.  The announcement comes a day after President Dmitri Medvedev said his country is not completely satisfied with the pace of Iran's international dialogue about its nuclear program.

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told reporters in Moscow his country expects serious results at Bushehr by the end of 2009, but the launch itself will not take place.  He said the decision is driven by technical considerations, not politics.

Shmatko spoke one day after President Medvedev discussed the Iranian nuclear program with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Singapore.  Mr. Obama urged Tehran to agree to a U.N. proposal to ship its uranium abroad for processing, adding that time for diplomacy on the issue is running out.  The Russian leader said the purpose of the negotiating process with Iran is to obtain clear guarantees about the transparency of its nuclear program.

Mr. Medvedev says Moscow is not completely satisfied with the pace of the negotiating process.  He says Russia counts on reaching agreements resulting from the process discussed earlier, and also on a peaceful Iranian nuclear program that will not raise so many questions with Russia and the international community.

Iran has not given a clear response to a U.N. proposal to send uranium to Russia and France for enrichment.  The proposal is aimed at preventing Iran from diverting nuclear fuel to build nuclear weapons.  Russia has helped Iran construct the 1,000 megawatt Bushehr plant.

The United States and other Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.  Tehran says its nuclear program is designed to produce electricity.

Alexander Pasechnik, research director at Russia's National Energy Security Fund, told VOA the Bushehr facility is nearly complete.  He says the launch delay at this late stage appears political rather than technical, since it comes just a day after Presidents Obama and Medvedev discussed the issue in Singapore.

Pasechnik says there are political [risks] of continuing instability involving the enrichment question.  He adds that Russia is seeking to balance American interests with its own commercial interests in Iran.

During her visit to Moscow in October, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States and Russia agree on the importance of pursuing diplomacy toward Iran.  Clinton said it was not yet time for additional sanctions against that country, noting the United States continues to believe they might be needed if diplomacy fails.  Russia has been reluctant to impose sanctions.

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