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Tensions between Russia, Iran ratchet up over nuclear program

By Jesse / March 13, 2007

Russia, which has been one of the few defenders of Iran's nuclear progam, has taken a harder stance on the issue, saying it is "unacceptable" for Tehran to possess the potential to make a nuclear bomb and that Moscow "will not play anti-American games."

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The Russian newspaper Kommersant quotes state news agency reports — which are presumed to represent the Kremlin position — saying if Iran does not comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to halt the country's uranium enrichment program, Russia will withdraw its support.

A "well-informed source" connected with atomic energy complained that "the Iranians are misusing their constructive relation with Russia and are doing nothing to help us convince our colleagues of the coherence of Tehran's actions." His opinion was reported by all leading Russian information agencies simultaneously and, in keeping with recent practice, can be assumed to come directly from the Kremlin.

Iran insists it is enriching uranium for use in power plants, but the US and its allies contend that the program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Reuters reports the Russian source said that because of Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment at the request of the IAEA and the UN Security Council, Russia is "suffering losses in terms of foreign policy and our image while they stand their ground."

"If they do not respond to the questions of the IAEA, let them answer for themselves."

"They cannot play on our methodical good relations eternally and they need to understand that."

Russia holds the key to future U.N. sanctions on Iran because it holds a veto in the Security Council and has used its influence to soften previous measures.

At the center of the current tensions is a nuclear power plant that Moscow has been building in Tehran through Russian state-owned contractor Atomstroiexport. The Washington Post reports that Russia has accused Iran of failing to make the scheduled $25 million monthly payments for the Bushehr facility, and the September launch date for its reactor will not be met because of it.

Iran reportedly wants to make payments in euros, not dollars, which Russia has refused to accept without renegotiating the contract. There are reports here that the contract has become unprofitable and Russia may want to extract additional financial and political concessions.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reports that under the agreement to build the Busheher plant, Russia was due to deliver nuclear fuel six months prior to the launch date, which means a September launch date would necessitate fuel delivery by March. But because the project deadline of September has been postponed, Russia will not deliver the fuel this month.

The Tehran Times reports that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Sunday that Iran has honored all of its financial commitments and that he hopes Russia "will not politicize the matter" of the plant's delay. "We expect the Russians to honor their commitments, too, and to transfer the fuel by the agreed time, which is two weeks from now," he added. Iran-based news network PRESS-TV reports that Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, also denied that Iran owed Russia money, saying: "We have always paid them (Russians) ahead of time. We have never had any debt to them. They know it."