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Why Russia is stalling progress on Iran nuclear plant

Ties may be fraying: Russia announced another delay in Bushehr, the Iran nuclear plant it is building, and has refused to fulfill a contract to supply advanced missiles.

By Correspondent / November 17, 2009

MOSCOWRussia may be starting to lose patience with its wayward Middle Eastern partner Iran, with delays mounting in the delivery of long-established contracts to provide sophisticated weaponry and civilian nuclear technology to the Islamic Republic.

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"Russia is sympathetic to Iran, but it's also pragmatic," says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute of Near East Studies in Moscow. "Moscow did not agree to be used by the Iranians as an umbrella to protect it from fallout for its irresponsible nuclear policies or its adventurism in other parts of the Middle East. Russia isn't going to be patient forever."

Russian Energy Minister Sergei Smatko announced Monday that there will be yet another delay in the completion of Bushehr, a $1-billion civilian atomic power plant that Russia's state-owed Atomstroyexport has been building in southern Iran since 1995. The contract is regarded in Moscow as an important part of the country's plan to become a major global supplier of nuclear services.

That latest delay comes on top of Russia's unexplained refusal to fulfill a two-year-old contract to supply advanced S-300 air defense systems to Iran; Iran claims the first deliveries are now more than six months overdue.

"This is not about politics," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Tuesday in response to media speculation that the Bushehr delay was calculated to compel Iran to be more agreeable in talks about its alleged drive to obtain nuclear weapons. "Technological issues are being addressed."

The project has been hit with delays for years now. Moscow began sending nuclear fuel for the plant in 2007 and, following several previous postponements, Russia's top nuclear official Sergei Kiriyenko pledged last February that Bushehr would open by the end of 2009.

But the Russians are now wringing their hands and suggesting that technical problems at the plant, which was originally designed by the German Siemens company in the 1970s, are multiplying and could force further holdups.

This combined with Moscow's failure to fulfill the S-300 contract has Iranian leaders fearing that previously reliable Russian trade ties and political support may be evaporating.

"If we wait another 200 years, the Russians will not complete the plant," news agencies quoted Iranian lawmaker Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash as saying Tuesday. "The Russians have never told the truth."

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