U.S. official hails Russia for its stance on nuclear plant in Iran

A U.S. official on Wednesday welcomed a tough stance taken by Russia on a nuclear plant it is building in Iran, saying Washington and Moscow share similar concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

Russia had said on Monday that the Bushehr nuclear plant it is building in Iran would not be launched in September as planned, because of Iranian payment delays. As a result, Russia said, it would not ship the uranium fuel needed to power the plant to Iran this month, as earlier expected.

The statement angered Iranian officials, who denied any payment delays and accused Moscow of caving in to Western pressure to take a tougher line on Iran.

U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said, however, that Russia's actions were "consistent with our common interests and common concerns as to what's going on in Iran."

The U.S. and its Western allies have been pressing Iran for more transparency in its nuclear program, fearing it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and the U.N. Security Council has demanded Tehran halt its uranium enrichment program.

Iran insists its enrichment program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, and has refused to halt the program.

Sell told reporters during a trip to Moscow that "Russia's interests related to what is going on in Iran are similar to the United States interests."

In December, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions against Iran for its refusal to cooperate, and recently has been considering a new package of harsher sanctions against Tehran. The five permanent Security Council members include Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France. Germany has also joined the negotiations on Iran.

Diplomats voiced optimism Tuesday that they were moving closer to agreement on new sanctions, likely including an embargo on arms exports and an asset freeze on more individuals and companies linked to Tehran's nuclear and missile programs.

Russia and China, which have close commercial ties with Iran, have opposed the U.S. push for tougher sanctions. Russia supported the December resolution on sanctions only after the Security Council removed restrictions on the Russian-built Bushehr plant.

Moscow's recent tough line on Bushehr appeared, however, to signal increasing annoyance with Iran's intransigence and a possible warming on Western-proposed sanctions.

Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko on Wednesday dismissed the Iranian claims that Moscow violated its contract obligations by refusing to supply fuel for Bushehr.

Kiriyenko told Russian news agencies that the plant's launch scheduled for September had been pushed back by "two months at the minimum" because of Iran's payment delays and its failure to get the necessary equipment for the plant from unidentified third countries, reports AP.

"We will ship the fuel six months before the launch," Kiriyenko was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass, Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies on a trip to Italy, where he was accompanying Russia's President Vladimir Putin. "It's not a political action, it's technical requirements."

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