- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

MOSCOW Russia will finish building a nuclear power plant reactor in Iran despite U.S. opposition and is considering a tentative North Korean request for a similar plant, Russia's top nuclear official said yesterday.
The reactor Russia is building at an unfinished nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran, will be completed by 2005 as planned, Nuclear Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said at a news conference.
The United States has repeatedly urged Russia to abandon a 1995 contract with Iran to complete a nuclear reactor at Bushehr worth about $800 million, saying the project could help Iran build a nuclear bomb.
Russia denies that, saying the reactor can only be used for civilian purposes and will remain under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Iran has signed all required international agreements and undertaken full obligations on transparency and checks … and unfailingly fulfilled them," Mr. Rumyantsev said.
The controversy over Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran and American claims that Russian companies have leaked missile technologies to Tehran is a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations amid overall improvement.
Mr. Rumyantsev said Russia's cooperation with Iran poses no threat of nuclear proliferation. He said a Russian law passed last year strengthened nonproliferation guarantees by allowing spent fuel from nuclear power plants abroad to be taken back to Russia for reprocessing.
"We will ship nuclear fuel to Iran under the contract, which envisages that the spent fuel will be taken back to Russia," Mr. Rumyantsev said. "There has been no other cooperation that could help Iran build nuclear weapons."
On a conciliatory note, he said Russia views the U.S. concerns with "great attention" and hopes for a "compromise that would help strengthen confidence and peace while allowing Russia to reap economic benefits."
But he also said his ministry was looking at a tentative request from North Korea for the construction of a nuclear power plant. That could generate considerable anger in the Bush administration, which suspects North Korea of developing nuclear weapons. In January, President Bush labeled North Korea, Iran and Iraq an "axis of evil" seeking weapons of mass destruction.
"We are holding discussions and trying to find out whether it would be economically feasible," Mr. Rumyantsev said. "But these are only discussions without any specific foundation."
North Korea recently threatened to abandon a 1994 agreement with Washington in which the former agreed to freeze its nuclear program, including two Soviet-designed reactors that the United States suspected of producing weapons-grade plutonium. The move by Pyongyang was made in exchange for U.S. oil shipments and the construction of two replacement reactors of a type that cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium.

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