Iran to increse cooperation with Russia

The head of Iran's nuclear program told Russian officials Monday that the new Iranian government wants to increase cooperation with Russia.

"The relations with Russia are of key importance to our state," Gholamreza Aghazadeh said at the start of his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russia, which is building a nuclear reactor in Iran, has objected to the U.S. push to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions over its controversial nuclear program, saying that the U.N. nuclear watchdog could continue dealing with the issue.

Following Monday's talks between Lavrov and Aghazadeh, the Russian Foreign Ministry reaffirmed that the latest report by U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei "creates a good basis for the continuation of the professional and apolitical work by the International Atomic Energy Agency so that all remaining issues relating to Iran's nuclear program are resolved."

Britain, Germany and France, negotiating on behalf of the European Union, have warned that they may join in seeking to refer Iran to the Security Council if Tehran does not stop uranium conversion before a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Sept. 19.

Last month, Iran restarted uranium conversion, an early stage of the nuclear fuel cycle that precedes enrichment. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make weapons. At lower levels, it is used in power generation.

Iran says its nuclear ambitions are aimed only at electricity generation.

Russia's US$800 million (about Ђ600 million) contract to build the Bushehr nuclear reactor has caused U.S. concerns that the reactor could help Tehran develop nuclear weapons. But U.S. officials praised Moscow for demanding a deal _ signed in February _ that obliges Iran to return spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr to make sure it is not used in weapons programs.

Russian and Iranian officials reaffirmed Monday that the Bushehr plant would be launched by the end of 2006.

Russia already has trained about 700 Iranian nuclear engineers, and several dozen Iranian experts are yet to complete training at the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant in southwestern Russia, Alexander Ivanchenko, who heads the training center at the plant, said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

While Russia has defended its nuclear cooperation with Iran, it has also urged Tehran to stop uranium conversion and cooperate with the international community to assuage concerns about its nuclear program.

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