Putin offers Iran's president-elect to continue nuclear cooperation

Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Saturday congratulated the new Iranian president-elect and said Moscow was ready to develop its nuclear cooperation with Iran in line with international agreements.

In a letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line conservative mayor of Tehran who won a landslide victory over his relatively moderate rival Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Putin offered to continue cooperation in the nuclear field after Russia completes construction of a nuclear reactor in Iran's southern port city of Bushehr.

"The construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant is nearing end, and we are ready to continue cooperation with Iran in the nuclear energy sphere with respect to our international obligations in the non-proliferation area and help find a mutually acceptable political solution of relevant issues," Putin said in a letter to Ahmadinejad released by the Kremlin.

Russia has offered Iran to build more nuclear reactors after completing the Bushehr plant, set to become fully operational by the end of 2006, but no specific agreements has been reached.

Russia's US$800 million contract to build the 1,000-megawatt reactor in Bushehr has worried the United States, which accuses Tehran of running a covert nuclear weapons program.

But U.S. officials say Russia increasingly has shared their concerns about Iran's nuclear program and Washington has praised Moscow for demanding a deal - signed in February - that obliges Iran to return spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr. The agreement was aimed at lessening the possibility of Iran extracting plutonium for use in atomic weapons.

While Russia defended its nuclear cooperation with Iran, it has urged Tehran to cooperate with international community to assuage concerns about its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad had sent strong signals that as president, he might push his country toward a much tougher stance in sensitive negotiations with the West over its controversial nuclear program.

On the photo: President-elect Ahmadinejad

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