Russia says it will press ahead with the construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran despite growing U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear facilities.
Russia's Atomic Energy Minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, said Russia will continue building a nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Western Iran, because, in his words, the Kremlin doesn't feel it is doing anything wrong.
In an interview with Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, Mr. Rumyantsev said the project at Bushehr will serve civilian purposes only and will remain under international control.
He also claims Russian participation in the project has no connection with two Iranian nuclear facilities, which the United States suspects are part of a clandestine Iranian weapons program.
Mr. Rumyantsev dismissed the U.S. claims, voiced Friday, as "groundless," and said both facilities in question are part of Iran's civilian nuclear program. He also urged the United States to present evidence of any abuse, similar to the position taken by Russian officials in debating a new, tougher Security Council resolution on weapons inspections in Iraq.
U.S. officials have strongly urged Russia to abandon the Bushehr project, saying it could advance Iran's atomic weapons program. Friday, the U.S. State Department said satellite photographs broadcast recently on CNN suggest that Iran is trying to conceal its aspirations to produce nuclear weapons.
On Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister dismissed the claims, saying his country's nuclear aims are "transparent, clear and peaceful."
Mr. Rumyantsev is reportedly scheduled to travel to Tehran later this month to sign an agreement on the return of spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr to Russia for reprocessing. Russian officials say the agreement will provide firm guarantees against nuclear proliferation.
But the top Russian official acknowledges U.S. officials are likely to maintain pressure on Russia to re-think its cooperation with Iran, having been critical of the program since it was signed in 1995.
The controversy mars otherwise warm U.S.-Russian relations, which have grown in the wake of President Vladimir Putin's firm support for the U.S. led war against global terrorism.