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Powell Expresses Concern About Russian, Iranian Cooperation - 2002-12-17

Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed renewed concern Monday about Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran. The Bush administration believes Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. The United States has long sought to dissuade Russia from helping Iran complete a nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. And U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear efforts have been heightened by the release last week of satellite photos of two sites in central Iran that officials in Washington say may be part of a nuclear weapons program.

Questioned about the issue at a news conference Monday with Japanese officials, Secretary Powell said Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Iran is a constant issue in U.S.-Russian talks, and he questioned why a country like Iran, rich in oil and gas resources, would want a nuclear power station. "We've always found it curious as to why Iran would need nuclear power, when they are so blessed with other means of generating electricity. And thereby, that kind of leads to the possibility of proliferation. And we have had conversations with Russia that we are concerned about this, and that some of the support they are providing might well go to developing nuclear weapons within Iran," says Mr. Powell. "And it will continue to be a matter of discussion with us and the Russians."

Iran denies having a secret nuclear weapons program, and Russia has stressed that the Bushehr plant will be subject to international nuclear safeguards. However, U.S. officials say Iran will be able to derive valuable weapons know-how from the facility, even if no nuclear material was diverted from it.

CNN and other U.S. media outlets carried commercial satellite photos last week of the two suspected nuclear sites near Tehran, one of which was described as a possible uranium enrichment facility and the other a heavy-water plant that could be part of a plutonium project.

Iranian officials have said the facilities are part of the country's "peaceful" nuclear program and that the International Atomic Energy Agency has been briefed on them. The IAEA has arranged to inspect them in February, though U.S. officials say previous attempts by the Vienna-based agency to visit them were rebuffed by Iran.