ran offers Russia cash to unblock nuclear plant
By Guy Faulconbridge
Reuters
Friday, March 9, 2007; 9:47 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia warned Iran on Friday that the Bushehr nuclear plant could face further delays unless Tehran moved to resolve a payment row after days of talks ended with no resolution to the dispute.

A Russian nuclear official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that nothing had been resolved in three days of talks and lashed out at Iranian negotiators for making public statements they said were detrimental to the talks.

"The Iranian delegation discussed all the questions but no firm decisions were made to overcome the crisis," said the official who did not want to be identified.

"A further dragging out of these questions will further worsen the existing delays to the timetable for building the (power station)," the official said.

Moscow and Tehran have been bickering over what Russian officials say are millions of dollars in delayed payments for building the plant. Iran denies it has missed payments.

Russia has repeatedly delayed building work at Iran's first nuclear power station, a sensitive issue as Tehran has come under pressure from the United States and the European Union for its nuclear ambitions.

The United States has been pushing Russia to stop building the Bushehr plant in southwest Iran because it suspects Tehran will use the atomic know-how to make nuclear weapons.

Moscow, keen to boost nuclear sales abroad, says Tehran does not have the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran says it has a right to develop its civilian nuclear sector and denies seeking nuclear arms.

Diplomats say Moscow is deliberately dragging its feet on Bushehr because some Kremlin factions are wary of helping Tehran's nuclear program.

MONEY PROBLEMS

Russia said last month that tens of millions of dollars of missed payments from Iran meant the plant would be delayed.

Iranian negotiators held talks with the Russian state-owned firm building the plant, Atomstroiexport, and offered more money to overcome delays, Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's nuclear energy organization, told Reuters by telephone.

"Of course there are some delays but the Russian company and the Iranian side have prepared a schedule which will decrease and compensate for this delay," said Saeedi, who headed an Iranian delegation at talks in Moscow.

"Atomstroiexport has financial problems and has asked Iran to pay part of the contract money before what was said in the contract," said Saeedi.

He said a Russian delegation would travel to Tehran next week to discuss the timetable for starting up the plant.

"Iran believes that there is no obstacle to deliver fuel to Iran and based on the agreement it is necessary that the Russian side delivers the fuel to Iran in March and that the power plant starts operations in September," he said.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran)

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