By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
MOSCOW, March 12 -- Russian officials said Monday that nuclear fuel will not be delivered to Iran this month as planned and that the September completion of a Russian-built nuclear power plant will be postponed because of an escalating dispute between the two countries.
Moscow and Tehran have been arguing for weeks over what Russia calls Iran's failure to make $25 million monthly payments on the $1 billion plant in the southern city of Bushehr. Iran insists that it has made all scheduled payments.
"It will be impossible to launch the reactor in September, and there can be no talk about supplying fuel this month," the state-owned Russian contractor Atomstroiexport said in a statement Monday.
Underlying the financial dispute appears to be increasing Russian hostility to Iran's suspected desire to build nuclear weapons and its flouting of international demands that it stop the enrichment of uranium and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The delivery of nuclear fuel would be a major boost for the Iranians. "We hope the Russians won't politicize" the delivery, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Sunday, according to news agencies. "This should be done within the next two weeks. We expect the Russians to fulfill their commitments."
The U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran in December after it refused to stop uranium enrichment. Iran says it has no intention of producing highly enriched uranium necessary for making nuclear weapons. Construction of the Bushehr plant was not affected by the sanctions, but Russia has in the past slowed construction as a lever to pressure Iran.
The Security Council is considering further penalties against Tehran.
"We do not need a nuclear Iran or an Iran with the potential to create them," a Russian official whose name was not disclosed told Russian news agencies Monday. "We will not play any anti-U.S. games with it, should [Iran] decide against giving any answers to the IAEA's questions. Let them answer for themselves."
The unidentified source accused Iran of abusing its good relations with Moscow. The Iranians "have done nothing to help us convince our colleagues of Tehran's consistency," the official said. "This is detrimental to us, especially to our foreign policy and our image."
Russia has been building the Bushehr nuclear plant under a contract signed in 1995, and the two countries have close economic ties. Russia has repeatedly defended Iran's right to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program and has resisted efforts by the United States and the European Union to level harsher sanctions against the country.
Iran reportedly wants to make payments in euros, not dollars, which Russia has refused to accept without renegotiating the contract. There are reports here that the contract has become unprofitable and Russia may want to extract additional financial and political concessions.
Talks broke down last week when Russian officials became angered by public statements from the head of the Iranian delegation blaming Moscow for the standoff.
Iran's central bank issued a new bank note Monday that includes a nuclear symbol, the Associated Press reported. The note shows electrons flying around a nucleus on a map of Iran.