UN nuclear watchdog chief gives thumbs up to Russia's Iran nuclear ties
NOVO OGARYOVO, Russia (AFP) Jun 29, 2004
UN atomic watchdog chief Mohammed ElBaradei said on Tuesday that his agency was not worried about Russia building a nuclear reactor for Iran, which is being investigated for a possible secret nuclear weapons program.

Russian construction of the Islamic state's first nuclear reactor, which has been frowned on by the United States and Israel, was "no longer at the center of international concern," International Atomic Energy Agencydirector general ElBaradei told reporters after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence west of Moscow.

"Bushehr is a bilateral project between the Russian Federation and Iran. Bushehr is not currently at the center of international concern because Bushehr is a project to produce nuclear energy (for peaceful purposes), and (because there is an) agreement that the spent fuel -- which could be of concern -- will be returned back to Russia," ElBaradei said.

Spent fuel is highly radioactive and in some cases can be recycled for weapons use.

ElBaradei said the controversial 800 million dollar (666 million euro) Bushehr project, which is of economic importance for Russia, was not even on the agenda of his meeting with Putin.

"Bushehr was not discussed. We did not discuss it with Putin because it is not a subject of any concern on our part," ElBaradei said.

Iran has remained a sore point in Russian-US relations despite a new wave of cooperation following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Moscow has since appeared to have put the brakes on the project, despite public statements that it is pushing ahead with the Bushehr reactor, and delivered strong pressure on Iran to cooperate in the IAEA's investigation of Tehran's nuclear activities.

Iran's first nuclear reactor is now not due to become operational until 2005 -- years behind schedule.

Russian atomic energy agency chief Alexander Rumyantsev had said Sunday that Iran was cooperating with the IAEA in its investigation of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program and so "Russia cooperates with Iran in the construction of the first nuclear power plant unit in Bushehr."

He said Russia will "speed up negotiating" over supplying nuclear fuel to Iran for Bushehr in order to meet contractual deadlines.

At the start of his meeting with Putin, ElBaradei told reporters: "We must also make sure it (the nuclear material provided by Russia to Iran) is used at a high level of safety and not misused for military purposes.

"In all these activities, Russian contribution has been extremely useful," ElBaradei said.