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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 02:50 GMT
Russia forges ahead with Iran reactor
Alexander Rumyantsev meets Iran's parliamentary speaker, Mehdi Karrubi
The Bushehr plant is due to be finished two years early
Russia and Iran have agreed to speed up the construction of the Islamic republic's first nuclear reactor, in the face of strong American criticism.

Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, finalised details in Tehran on Wednesday.

Satellite image of Arak site
The US believes Iran's new facilities could produce nuclear weapons
Mr Rumyantsev brushed aside the concerns of Washington - which sees Iran as part of a global "axis of evil" - saying the project met all international regulations and was for civilian use only.

"We always tell our American colleagues that all co-operation between Iran and Russia conforms to international regulations and the resolutions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," he told a news conference.

Russia began work building a reactor worth $800m near the south-western port of Bushehr this autumn - the plant is due to be commissioned at the end of 2003.

It says that the project will not enable Iran to create nuclear weapons as all spent fuel will be returned to Russia but questions remain over the safeguards for this procedure.

New sites

Mr Aqazadeh said the two countries had also agreed to carry out feasibility studies for a second power-generation unit within a few months.

Nuclear sites around Tehran
The United States recently released satellite photographs of Bushehr and two other sites in Iran which have been earmarked for nuclear facilities: Arak and Natanz.

The construction of the plant at Bushehr is taking place under IAEA supervision.

But the agency's inspectors are not due to visit Arak and Natanz until late February, when a delegation led by IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei is due to arrive.

Both sites, US officials say, are both of a type that could be used to build nuclear warheads.

Russia's nuclear deal with Iran has raised questions in Washington and elsewhere.

Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States questioned why oil-rich Iran needed to pursue a nuclear energy programme.

See also:

14 Dec 02 | Middle East
01 Sep 02 | Middle East
16 Aug 02 | Middle East
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