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Russian Official Rejects US Claim of Iranian Nuclear Program - 2003-05-06

A top Russian official has rejected U.S. claims that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of international treaties. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov issued the denial as U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton ended a visit to Russia aimed at securing Moscow's cooperation on the issue.

Mr. Losyukov dismissed the U.S. claims as groundless, saying that so far neither the United States nor any other country had presented solid evidence that Iran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, visiting U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton accused Iran of violating the nuclear non-proliferation pact and International Atomic Energy Agency guarantees. Mr. Bolton brought the issue up during talks with Russia's atomic energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, and Deputy Foreign Ministers Losyukov and Georgy Mamedov.

Mr. Bolton referred specifically to the findings of a recent visit to Iran by International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohamed ElBaradei. According to Mr. Bolton, the IAEA chief found that Iran possessed a cache of materiel that could be used to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

Mr. Losyukov told Russia's Interfax news agency Tuesday that very sound evidence was still needed to make such a claim. But he stressed that Russia would continue to work with the IAEA and Iran in a bid to promote greater transparency in Tehran's nuclear program. Mr. Losyukov acknowledged that there were still some uncertainties about the program.

The Russian official also reiterated that Russia's cooperation with Iran in this realm was strictly in line with the norms of the IAEA.

The United States has long been concerned that Iran is purchasing weapons technology from Russia to create a nuclear weapons program. Iran denies this and Russia says the technology it is selling to Iran is for civilian purposes only.

Mr. Losyukov also contradicted Mr. Bolton's view that Russia and the United States are in clear agreement on how best to handle North Korea's nuclear crisis.

Mr. Bolton said Monday that neither Washington nor Moscow would like to see a nuclear-armed North Korea and that both favored multilateral talks on the problem.

But Interfax Tuesday quotes Mr. Losyukov as saying there is a broad divide between Russia and the United States on North Korea. He said there is no absolute clarity about what steps are to be taken in order to move the issue forward. He also expressed concern that some U.S. official's statements appear to suggest that they still might consider using force to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.