Dec. 21, 2007
Ex-President: Russian comment on Moscow-built nuclear plant misleading.
TEHRAN, Iran: Iran's former influential President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani voiced dissatisfaction Friday at a Russian executive's remarks that a Moscow-built nuclear plant in Iran would not start work until late next year.
Such statements were "unprecedented because they create ambiguities," Rafsanjani claimed. But he did not explain the ambiguities or give more insight when the Iranians expect the plant in the southern port of Bushehr to be launched.
Yet the comment by Rafsanjani — a powerful figure in Iran's clerical leadership who recently emerged as a leader of conservatives critical of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadineajd — reflected disillusionment with Tehran's traditional ally, Russia.
Sergei Shmatko, constructions chief of the Atomstroiexport company which is building Bushehr, was quoted as saying in Russian news reports on Thursday that the plant — Iran's first Russian-built nuclear power facility — will not start operating before late 2008.
"Again they are saying just some words," Rafsanjani said in a speech to worshippers in Tehran University Campus marking the Eid al-Adha feast, adding that the Russian claim was misleading.
Rafsanjani nevertheless welcomed Russia's first shipment this week of nuclear fuel to Bushehr as a "positive step," even though he said Moscow had long stalled and "violatated" its promises to deliver the fuel.
"Years have passed from the time when they committed to start the plant's operation," said Rafsanjani, head of a top clerical organization.
Russia's fuel shipment to Bushehr on Monday paves the way for the long-delayed startup of the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor. Russian officials have said that fuel deliveries would begin about half a year before Bushehr was expected to go into service, but they remain coy about the precise launch date.
In the campus speech, Rafsanjani also criticized U.S. President George W. Bush for disputing Iranian needs to continue uranium enrichment following the Russian delivery.
Bush on Monday backed the fuel shipment — a product of low-enriched uranium — and which the U.S. leader said now deprived the Iranians of the need to continue uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb if it is highly enriched.
The United States has said it supports Russia's providing enriched uranium to Iran so long as Moscow retrieves the used reactor fuel for reprocessing, as stipulated in an agreement between Russia and Iran.
Although initially opposed to Russian role in building and supplying Bushehr, the U.S. and its allies agreed to remove any reference to the project in the first set of U.N. Security Council sanctions passed a year ago as punishment for Tehran's persistence to in enriching uranium — in exchange for Moscow's support for those penalties.
A second round of sanctions were later imposed, and Iran dismissed both as illegal. Now the U.S. is pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
Iran says it needs a uranium enrichment program to produce fuel for civilian power plants, but Washington suspects it is a cover for a nuclear weapons bid.
But the American push for new sanctions was dampened this month with the release of a new U.S. intelligence report concluding Iran had halted a nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and had not resumed it since.
On Thursday, senior diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany failed again to agree on elements of a new sanctions resolution, according to U.S. officials in Washington.
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