BUSHEHR, Iran, Feb. 27 -- Iran and Russia ignored U.S. objections and signed a nuclear fuel agreement Sunday that is key to bringing Iran's first reactor online by mid-2006.
The long-delayed deal, signed at the heavily guarded Bushehr nuclear facility in southern Iran, dramatized President Bush's failure to persuade Russia to curtail support for the Iranian nuclear program during his summit with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Slovakia.
Iran hopes to have its first reactor, at the $800 million Bushehr nuclear facility, online by mid-2006.
(Fars News Agency Via Reuters)
Under the deal, Russia will provide nuclear fuel to Iran, then take back the spent fuel, a step meant as a safeguard to ensure it cannot be diverted into a weapons program. Iran has also agreed to allow the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to monitor Bushehr and the fuel deliveries.
The agreement was signed by Gholamreza Aghazadeh, an Iranian vice president and chief of the country's nuclear program, and Alexander Rumyantsev, chief of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency, after they toured the $800 million complex.
"Today, a very important development occurred, and that was the protocol on returning nuclear fuel, which we signed together. In the next few weeks many Russian technicians will arrive in Bushehr" to finish the plant, Rumyantsev said.
Neither official was willing to discuss protocols for shipping the nuclear fuel to Iran and the spent fuel back to Russia, but they insisted that the agreement conforms to international nuclear regulations.
The White House and the State Department declined Sunday to comment on the deal. The Bush administration has accused Iran of covertly trying to build a nuclear weapons program, which Iran denies. Bush and Putin discussed U.S. concerns about Russian support for Iran's nuclear program during their summit last week.
Putin has said that he was confident that Iran's nuclear program was intended only to generate energy, not to create weapons, and that Russian cooperation with Iran would continue.