'Talks with Russia on atom plant row progress'

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Tehran, Sep 16: The fuel is ready for Iran's first atomic power plant being built by Russia and talks with Moscow to resolve a dispute that has held up work are moving forward, Iran's foreign minister said today.

Russian contractors have repeatedly put back the completion date for the power station at Bushehr on the Gulf, provoking tensions between Moscow and Tehran.

Moscow blames financial problems for the delays. But many observers say Russia is stalling because it does not fully trust Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and fears an international backlash if it delivers nuclear fuel to Bushehr.

''The nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant is ready. This fuel has been inspected and sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) inspectors,'' Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference in Tehran.

''We see the trend of the talks with Russia moving ahead.'' He was speaking after returning this week from Moscow where he met Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russian state atomic energy agency Rosatom, although a Russian official said they did not tackle the Bushehr plant issue during those talks.

Mottaki said Ahmadinejad and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had discussed the issue in a recent telephone conversation, although he did not say when.

The United States and several Western countries believe Iran is using its atomic energy programme as a cover to try to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran says it only wants nuclear technology to generate power.

Russia says Bushehr poses no threat of Iran acquiring sensitive technology, but Washington has pressed Moscow to drop the project as part of sanctions on Iran.

Separately, Ahmadinejad held telephone talks with Saudi's King Abdullah in which they also discussed nuclear issues, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

Ahmadinejad told the Saudi monarch Iran was ''ready to provide its experience in the field of nuclear technology'' to Saudi under the supervision of the IAEA.

Iran has previously offered its skills in nuclear technology to Gulf Arab states, which have begun work on a feasibility study for a civilian atomic programme.


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