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. Russia renews support for Iran nuclear program
MOSCOW (AFP) Oct 24, 2005
Russia reiterated its support Monday for Iran's controversial nuclear program and said all questions about it should be handled by the international nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna.

"Our common position is that we have to continue to deal with all the questions raised through the IAEA," the International Atomic Energy Agency, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after holding talks here with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

"This way we can find a decision acceptable by all sides that, on the one hand, allows Iran its lawful right to a peaceful nuclear energy program and, on the other hand, does not allow any doubts about the peaceful character of this activity," Lavrov said.

"Iran's nuclear aims should not be politicized," said Mottaki, adding: "All Iranian nuclear questions should be resolved through the IAEA."

Mottaki also reiterated Iran's position that the country would pull out of a protocol in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing tough inspections of Iran's nuclear sites if the Iran nuclear issue is put before the UN Security Council.

The Iranian foreign minister also held out the prospect of lucrative contracts for Russian companies in Iran.

"We discussed a long list of concrete projects with Mr Lavrov," Mottaki said, adding that proposals by Russian companies for Iranian tenders were "attractive to the Iranian side."

The United States and the European Union fear that Tehran could use a nuclear energy program to camouflage development of nuclear weapons.

Russia is the main foreign contractor in construction of Iran's first nuclear power station and has defended Tehran's right to develop nuclear energy.

Earlier this month, Lavrov and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice openly aired their differences over the issue.

The Russian minister defended Tehran's "right" to nuclear energy, while Rice retorted that Iran also had "obligations" under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Diplomats in Vienna said on Thursday that Iran had provided new information about its controversial uranium enrichment program to visiting international nuclear inspectors.

At their meeting Monday, the Russian and Iranian ministers discussed the Middle East, efforts to counter the Afghan drug trade and the Caspian Sea, which has yet to be comprehensively delineated.

"The interests of Russia and Iran are very close" over the Caspian, Lavrov said.

Mottaki said both countries aimed "to create a sea of peace and stability."

Moscow and Tehran also discussed cooperation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation -- a Central Asian regional grouping led by Russia and China that Iran joined as an observer earlier this year.

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