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. Iran warns it can finish nuclear plant without Russia
MOSCOW, Sept 25 (AFP) Sep 25, 2006
Iran pressed Russia Monday to speed up work on a nuclear power station it is building near the Gulf port of Bushehr, warning that the Islamic republic was ready to complete the work itself if necessary.

"In the event that the Russian contractor proves incapable of completing the Bushehr project, Iran is ready to finish it itself," the head of Iran's nuclear energy organization Gholamreza Aghazadeh told Iranian journalists after Moscow talks.

"From our point of view, we can complete the power station within six months," Aghazadeh told the semi-offical Mehr news agency, denying reports of an agreement with Russia for a November 2007 completion date.

The Iranian envoy launched a strong attack on the competence of Russian contractor Atomstroyexport which is building the power plant but said Iran would continue to work with it for the time being.

Before the Moscow talks began, Iranian officials said that the meetings were aimed at finalizing plans for the delivery of nuclear fuel and the startup of the Bushehr plant.

"We are going to discuss ways to remove existing obstacles by quickly completing the Bushehr atomic plant and also we are going to agree the time of inauguration and sending the fuel," Aghazadeh's deputy, Mohammad Saeedi, told Iran's official IRNA news agency.

Saeedi complained that Russia had not followed through on commitments made last year on schedules for delivery of nuclear fuel, fuel that must be shipped and installed around six months before the plant can go on stream.

Although Russia had a longstanding contract worth an estimated one billion dollars to build the Bushehr reactor, it has been under heavy US-led pressure to suspend or slow its cooperation with the Islamic republic, which Washington accuses of trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Iran has consistently denied the US charges, saying that its nuclear programme is solely for civilian energy purposes, a right it says is enshrined in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russia's atomic energy agency, said last week that the Bushehr plant should be completed in September 2007 and would begin producing energy two months after that.

"Russia can deliver nuclear fuel to Iran next March, six months before the launching of the station," Novikov said.

A Russian spokesman said Aghazadeh would hold further talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Kiriyenko, Tuesday.

The United States has been leading calls at the United Nations for the Security Council to take enforcement action against Iran after it failed to heed an end of August deadline to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for reactors or, in extended form, the core of an atom bomb.

Russia and China, both of which have major economic interests in Iran, have rebuffed the US pressure, and France too has demanded that more talks be held to provide the assurances being sought by the international community that the Islamic republic's nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

In an effort to assuage Western concerns, Russia early last year secured Iran's agreement to an amendment of the Bushehr deal requiring that all spent nuclear fuel from the reactor be returned to Russia for reprocessing.

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