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Russia Hopeful About Resolving Deal to Transfer Nuclear Fuel to Iran - 2004-02-13

The Russian minister in charge of atomic energy says he believes outstanding issues regarding the transfer of nuclear fuel to Iran starting next year can be settled soon. The minister has postponed a trip to Iran to sign an agreement, but, according to the Itar-Tass news agency, the decision was not political.

The report on Itar-Tass says there was "no political background" to the decision, and it quotes Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev as saying the two sides have not been able to agree on the price of the nuclear fuel. The minister said Thursday he believes the outstanding issues can be settled within two weeks.

Iran is to use the fuel in its Bushehr nuclear plant. The agreement is believed to provide for Iran to return all spent nuclear fuel to Russia.

Russia and Iran have said repeatedly that their cooperation at the Bushehr nuclear plant is for peaceful purposes only.

Russia has withheld fuel for the reactor because of international concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Moscow also worked closely with Washington late last year to convince Iranian leaders to sign an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency that provides for increased inspections.

Mr. Rumyantsev's announcement came on the same day U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said Washington believes Iran is still secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, even after it signed the protocol and revealed what it said was all the information about its nuclear program.

Diplomats at the IAEA in Vienna said Thursday that U.N. inspectors have found plans for sophisticated centrifuges in Iran that could be used to make weapons-grade nuclear material. The plans were not reported in Iran's statement to the IAEA last year.

The finding of traces of weapons-grade nuclear material in older centrifuges in Iran last year sparked the crisis that led to Iran's decision to allow the inspections.