Iran and Russia engage in nuclear talks
MOSCOW (AFP) Nov 10, 2003
Iran's top nuclear official was to meet Russian ministers Monday amid reports that Moscow was planning to add its voice to strong international pressure for the Islamic state to allay fears it was secretly building an atomic bomb.

"Russia is an important country in the international arena and a neighbor and friend of the Islamic republic," said Hassan Rowhani, who as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council handles the country's nuclear affairs.

"On the nuclear issue, we are discussing with the Russians ways we could cooperate in the next IAEA meeting and international issues regarding the nuclear activities," he told Iranian reporters in Moscow in comments broadcast in Tehran.

Rowhani is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov amid Iranian reports that he may also hold Kremlin talks with President Vladimir Putin.

The meetings come at a crucial time between the two countries' relations as global pressure piles on Iran to open up its military program to snap UN inspections.

Iran is due to send a letter this week to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stating its intention to sign an additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allowing stricter inspections.

Meanwhile Russia is building the Islamic state's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr as the two sides remains at odds over Moscow's refusal to deliver any fuel until Tehran returns all spent fuel.

Russia has delayed Bushehr's launch repeatedly in a nod to concerns from Israel and the United States over the project. The plant is now not expected to go on line until spring 2005 at the earliest.

Russia's foreign ministry said Monday that Ivanov's talks with Rowhani would focus on UN inspections.

"The meeting will center on cooperation between Tehran and the IAEA regarding the Iranian nuclear program and prospects for further atomic energy cooperation between Russia and Iran," a Russian ministry official told the Interfax news agency.

Iran announced Sunday that it would implement in the coming days a pledge to suspend the enrichment of uranium that could be used to make an atomic bomb.

The IAEA's board of governors is to meet on November 20 to discuss Iran's nuclear activities. Any ruling that it is failing to comply with international treaties could lead to UN sanctions.

Rowhani was due in Moscow last week but his trip coincided with a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and was postponed.

But some newspaper reports predicted that Rowhani's visit to Moscow would be difficult.

The Kommersant business daily quoted a Kremlin source as saying that Moscow would place "tough demands" on Iran to cooperate with UN inspectors and their demands.

"Only this, Mr. Rowhani will be told, will allow Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation to avoid the fire of criticism from the West, first of all the United States," Kommersant wrote.

"Only in that case can we speak about a future expansion of such cooperation" in the nuclear sphere, the newspaper cited the unnamed Russian official as saying.