11th-Hour Snag Delays Nuclear Fuel Deal Between Iran, Russia

Times Staff Writer

Russia and Iran postponed signing a deal Saturday for Moscow to supply fuel for the Islamic Republic’s first nuclear reactor in an apparent dispute over the timing of the initial delivery, but officials on both sides said they expected the agreement to be signed today.

The delay came just two days after a U.S.-Russia summit at which the Bush administration repeated its warnings that Iran could use the $1-billion Russian-built power plant in a nuclear weapons program. Iran denies any such intent.

The proposed fuel-supply agreement would require Iran to return all spent fuel to Russia. That condition is intended to prevent Tehran from obtaining material to build nuclear bombs from the new reactor at Bushehr, in southern Iran.

U.S. officials have said they are concerned that Iran could divert low-enriched uranium from Bushehr to a weapons facility, where it could be further enriched to manufacture a bomb.


The head of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, had been scheduled to sign the pact with his Iranian counterpart, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, on Saturday morning. But a snag developed, with the Iranian side apparently seeking an early date to begin receiving the fuel and the Russian side wanting a later one.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Rumyantsev as saying there were more pressing issues than the rapid supply of fuel. Because the plant is not scheduled to come online until 2006, “it is still early to supply fuel,” he said.

The Russian delegation attributed the signing delay to “a need to additionally study the course of construction,” Itar-Tass reported. Of particular concern was “the readiness of the storage depot, where the spent fuel loses radioactivity before being returned to Russia,” it said.

Rumyantsev said that his talks with Aghazadeh proceeded in “a constructive and friendly atmosphere,” the news service reported.


It was unclear whether the Russian side was imposing fresh demands on the Iranians -- possibly as a result of President Bush’s meeting Thursday with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia -- or whether the Iranian side was raising a new demand.

In televised remarks at a mid-February meeting in Moscow with Hassan Rowhani, secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Putin declared that “Iran’s latest actions convince us that Iran does not intend to produce nuclear weapons, which means we will continue our cooperation with Iran in all areas, including in the area of nuclear energy.

“We do hope ... that Iran will strictly adhere to its commitments both in its relations with Russia and internationally,” Putin added.

After the Bush-Putin summit, a senior U.S. administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters in Bratislava that “the Russians have made it clear that they’re not going to proceed with this until the Iranians have met all their international obligations and have satisfied the international community that they have abandoned their nuclear weapons program.”