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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
'Russia must end Iran nuclear deal'
Presidents Khatami and Putin
Russia's closeness to Iran worries Washington
US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham says he has urged Russia to give up all nuclear cooperation with Iran, insisting it is a matter of "utmost concern" to the United States.

Speaking after talks with energy officials in Moscow, Mr Abraham said he was deeply worried by Russia's decision to expand its construction of nuclear reactors in Iran, and he wanted all such projects to stop.


We consistently urge Russia to cease all nuclear cooperation with Iran, including its assistance to the reactor in Bushehr

Spencer Abraham
Last week Moscow announced a 10-year nuclear cooperation accord with Iran - one of three countries denounced by President Bush as an "axis of evil".

The US has long opposed Russia's involvement in the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in southern Iran, and this new accord provides for further reactors to be constructed.

Nuclear weapons risk

Mr Abraham's comments came after talks with Russian officials on energy and nuclear disarmament.

"We consistently urge Russia to cease all nuclear cooperation with Iran, including its assistance to the reactor in Bushehr," Mr Abraham said.

Spencer Abraham
Abraham: concerned about Iran's intentions
His message was reaffirmed by US Under-Secretary of State John Bolton, who was also present at the discussions in Moscow.

Mr Abraham accused Iran of "aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons as well as weapons of mass destruction".

Civil atomic energy projects would only fast-track the country's nuclear weapons programme, he warned.

US officials argue there can be no other reason for a country with Iran's oil resources to want so many nuclear power reactors.

But both Russia and Iran have said their nuclear cooperation is purely for peaceful purposes, and Iran consistently denies developing nuclear weapons.

New nuclear deal

The ambitious 10-year plan signed last week by Russia and Iran includes the construction of up to five nuclear reactors.

This is in addition to Russia's agreement made in the 1990s to build the Bushehr plant on the Gulf coast.

Iran's (non-nuclear) Shahab-3 missile on show
Iran's nuclear capabilities are in the spotlight
The new accord came as a surprise to US officials. In the wake of 11 September, Russia emerged as one America's key allies in its anti-terror campaign.

Less than a month ago, Moscow even agreed to a confidence-building $20bn aid package for dismantling Russia's weapons of mass destruction.

But the BBC's regional affairs analyst Steven Eke says the issue of Russia's nuclear co-operation with Iran is one of the most contentious problems in US-Russia relations, and the reactor at Bushehr is at the heart of the problem.

The plant should be running within two or three years and, while Moscow insists it has adequate controls in place, previous failures have provoked suspicion in the US.

The reactor itself could not be used to make a nuclear bomb, our correspondent says, but weapons-grade plutonium could theoretically be extracted from its spent fuel.

The nuclear issue is part of a wider strategic disagreement between Washington and Moscow over Iran.

Russia has derided the idea that Iran belongs to what President Bush calls "the axis of evil" - and has even accused Washington of orchestrating an anti-Iranian campaign.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov
"Russia has always treated Iran as a very close and important neighbour"
See also:

31 Jul 02 | Americas
26 May 02 | Middle East
16 Jul 00 | Media reports
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