Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the United States has no problem with Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor because the power plant's Russian uranium fuel will be returned after it is used. The Bushehr plant, which has been under construction for many years, is now being loaded with fuel.
Despite their concerns about what they say is an Iranian nuclear weapons drive, U.S. officials say they do not see a proliferation threat from the Bushehr plant, which will be under international safeguards.
Construction of the Bushehr plant on the Persian Gulf was begun by German builders before Iran's Islamic Revolution. Russian contractors undertook to complete the project several years ago.
Under that arrangement, Russia is providing the enriched uranium fuel for the reactor. Iran is to return the spent fuel rods for reprocessing in Russia under international safeguards.
U.S. officials call the scenario a "model" for Iranian civil nuclear energy that does not pose a weapons risk.
At a New York meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindeleggar, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran's civil nuclear power program, and its presumed quest for nuclear weapons through a largely-concealed enrichment effort, are two different things.
"What they are doing is starting a reactor that is, based on everything we know about it and everything that the Russians have informed us about it since they have worked with the Iranians over many years to build this reactor, strictly for peaceful purposes. Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr. Our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz, and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program," she said.
The Austrian foreign minister, whose country is host to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said international contacts with Iran over its nuclear program are at a "sensitive moment." He said Tehran might be ready to return to negotiations.
Clinton said she is hopeful that the negotiating process between Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council countries and Germany, the P5+1, can resume soon.
U.S. officials say U.N. and unilateral sanctions aimed at forcing Iran back to the bargaining table are being felt in Tehran and that Iranian authorities have had some contacts with European Union Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton about new talks, but made no commitments.
Iranian officials invited media coverage of the start of the fueling process at Bushehr on Tuesday. They said the loading could take another two or three months and that the plant probably will not go online until February.
Although not objecting to the Bushehr plant in principle, some U.S. officials have expressed concern that operating the reactor might give Iranian technicians know-how applicable to a weapons program.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.