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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.

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The Iranians appear especially upset over the delivery delays with the S-300, an advanced missile system that can take down high-flying aircraft at a range of nearly 100 miles. Together with the short-range Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia supplied two years ago the new rockets could make Iran feel immune to military threats and therefore more stubborn in its resistance to international pressure over its nuclear program, experts say.

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"The S-300 would be used to defend Iranian nuclear sites, and that would greatly complicate the situation," says Mr. Satanovsky. "So Russia is sending a clear signal to Iran by withholding delivery of these weapons."

Moscow has long differed with the US over how to deal with Iran. But Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who had his fourth face-to-face meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Singapore on Sunday, has suggested that Moscow is increasingly unhappy with Iran's conduct in international negotiations over its nuclear program.

"Over the past few weeks, Iran has shown a lot of obstinacy and intractability and this irritates Russian authorities," says Vladimir Sazhin, an expert with the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. "Our president has more than once indicated that Russia could join a tough sanctions regime."

The Kremlin has often argued that its role as friend and arms supplier affords it unique leverage over Tehran that could make Russia an indispensable mediator between Iran and the West. But some experts wonder whether Russian businesses, including powerful state nuclear and arms-export monopolies, have been letting their commercial interests trump political wisdom.

"I think Russia is at a crossroads where it really wants to join together with the US, because Iranian policies are so unpredictable," says Alexei Malashenko, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "But military cooperation is a big deal and the arms industries are very strong. At this point, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be clinging to Russia's special position vis à vis Iran mainly as a way of saving face," he argues.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday that it can't rule out additional secret Iranian nuclear sites.

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