Last update - 09:23 15/03/2007
ANALYSIS: Russia having second thoughts on nuclear aid to Iran
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent
The crisis between Russia and Iran regarding the construction of the Iranian nuclear plant at Bushehr worsened this week, as the state-owned Russian company building the reactor announced Monday that the plant would not be launched in September and nuclear fuel will not be delivered to the station this month as earlier planned, due the unpaid bills.Further more, Atomstroiexport warned Wednesday that "If the Iranian side doesn't resume funding for the project, the process could become irretrievable," adding that it was having difficulties trying to appease subcontractors who had demanded urgent payments.The company's statement emphasized that as soon as Iran resumes making payments, the nuclear fuel will be delivered. However, American and Israeli experts who are following the developments in Iran believe that there is more to the Russian announcement than a financial dispute, and say it is essentially a strategic decision by Russia that represents a changing diplomatic stance in Russia.
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For the past five years, Russia has used various excuses to delay the transfer of low-level enriched uranium to the Bushehr plant. Russia comes up with new technical reasons and explanations for every delay in the fuel transfer and the reactor's construction.This week, Sergei Kiriyenko, Russia's deputy prime minister and the head of its atomic energy agency, said the delay is "not a political step."But there are growing signs that Russia is having second thoughts about its assistance to Iran's nuclear program.During Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow several months ago, Putin admitted during a conversation with the prime minister that there are divisions in the Russian government regarding Iran's true intentions and whether Russia should continue with its assistance.Statements made by U.S. spokesmen also hinted at the change in the Russian position. Twice in the past two weeks have official administration spokesmen praised Russia's stance and the fact that it is delaying the completion of the Bushehr nuclear reactor.On Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell told reporters in Moscow that "the actions taken by the Russian government ... are consistent with our common interests and common concerns as to what's going on in Iran."This assessment is accepted by experts in Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence and the Foreign Ministry, but is disputed by Mossad researchers, who continue to view Russia as helping Iran gain nuclear technology and know-how.It also appears that Russia no longer presents an obstacle to attempts to approve further United Nations sanctions against Iran, this time including restrictions on trade with the country.

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