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Russia halts Iran nuclear plant until payments resume

Russia will halt work on Iran's first nuclear reactor until the Islamic Republic resumes payments, the head of the Atomic Energy Agency said.

Russia's state nuclear-plant builder can't finish work on the Bushehr reactor using its own money and won't work without pay, Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters in Moscow today. Russia has spent $150 million of its own money on the reactor and Iran hasn't paid a „single kopek” since mid-January, he said.

Iranian officials blame Russia's recent stance on Bushehr on US opposition to the project. The deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saeedi, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency yesterday that Iran had paid Russia about $23 million in the last two months. „We are deeply convinced that commercial disputes cannot be resolved through statements to the media,” Kiriyenko said. Asked if he believed Iran sought a nuclear reactor or just the fuel, he said: „That's a good question.” Highly enriched nuclear fuel can be used for bombs.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, which the US says is designed to produce nuclear weapons and Iran says is only for electricity production. The UN Security Council's five permanent members - Russia, the US, UK, France and China, along with Germany - are now debating more sanctions. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking alongside Kiriyenko today, said the Bushehr project is more important to Iran than it is to Russia. „Bushehr is just a drop in the ocean compared to the massive nuclear program Russia is embarking upon,” Ivanov said. Russia plans to spend about $26 billion over the next eight years to develop its nuclear industry, Ivanov, a former defense minister and KGB officer, said today.

ZAO Atomstroyexport, the contractor for Bushehr, today installed nuclear fuel at a plant it's building in China, the company said in a statement. In contrast to „the power and threats used by other governments,” Russia's nuclear program would „offer citizens of other countries light and warmth, thus acquiring trusty and loyal friends,” Ivanov said. Offering nuclear power construction and servicing to other countries runs opposite to „luring your allies under an antimissile shield, making them dependent on it, without a way out,” Ivanov said.

The US is negotiating to base interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, both former Soviet satellites, to guard against missile attacks from countries like Iran. Henry Obering, the Air Force lieutenant general who heads the US Missile Defense Agency, said March 1 he would like to have another radar station, in the Caucasus, which until 1991 was part of the Soviet Union.

Russia started work on the Bushehr reactor in 1995, taking over from Germany's Siemens AG. The building work is under an intergovernmental contract, meaning Russia cannot renege on construction completely, although it could delay the completion date indefinitely. (Bloomberg)