- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

MOSCOW Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham yesterday said Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran is a matter of "utmost" concern for the Bush administration, which believes the project helps advance Iran's weapons program.

Mr. Abraham's comments came just days after Russia announced an ambitious 10-year plan for cooperation with Iran that envisages building five nuclear reactors there in addition to the one already under construction.

"The expansion of Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran remains an issue of utmost concern to us," Mr. Abraham said at a news conference, wrapping up talks this week in Moscow. "It has been raised to the highest levels. We are in the middle of sensitive discussions on this matter."

Mr. Abraham and Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who handles arms-control issues, met Wednesday with Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev.

Mr. Abraham yesterday would not comment on the details of discussions on Iran, but he reaffirmed the administration's strong belief that Russia's cooperation with Iran was helping advance its nuclear weapons program.

"We have long been concerned that Iran's only interest in nuclear civil power, given its vast domestic energy resources, is to support its nuclear weapons program," Mr. Abraham said. "For that reason, we have consistently urged Russia to cease all nuclear cooperation with Iran, including its assistance to the reactor in Bushehr."

The $800 million deal to build the 1,000-megawatt reactor in Bushehr has been a thorny issue in U.S.-Russian relations since it was signed in 1995. Russia has scoffed at the U.S. concerns, saying that the nuclear plant would serve purely civilian purposes and remain under international supervision.

Russian nuclear officials have pledged to sign an agreement later this year to bring the spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr back to Russia for reprocessing to avoid any proliferation risks.

The Interfax news agency, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, reported that Russian officials would brief their Iranian counterparts about the Abraham and Bolton visit in talks late this month. Russia also is expected to inform Iran about "its new moves toward control over the export of goods and dual-purpose technologies," the agency quoted the sources as saying.

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