Russian delegate to IAEA says no fuel deal with Iran – yet

Publish date: September 17, 2007

NEW YORK - A Vienna-based Russian diplomat involved in nuclear negotiations denied on Sunday Iran's claim that Russian nuclear fuel was ready to be sent to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, RIA Novosti reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Saturday that fuel for the plant, being built by Russia’s Atomstroiproekt – Rosatom’s foreign reactor building wing – in south Iran for $1 billion, was "ready, with the security seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

However the Russian delegate in Vienna, where the United Nations nuclear watchdog is based.

According to RIA Novosti, the unnamed diplomat said: "Fuel for the Bushehr NPP has been prepared, and has been stored for several years in the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant (in Siberia), but the process of sealing by international experts, which is an important step for preparing it for transport to the Bushehr NPP site, has not yet taken place."

Russia’s position on the nuclear reactor it began building for Iran over a decade ago has of late become ambiguous in the face of international fears that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. The West, particularly the United States, has insisted that the civilian reactor is only a front for a weapons building strategy.

Atomstroiproekt put the breaks on the reactor’s scheduled opening date of September 2007, pushing it back for a year on the pretext that Iran has fallen behind in it’s bills – circumstances read by many analysts to mean Moscow was finally taking western fears into account, but saving face by citing financial concerns.

Tehran, for its part, has denied it is late in payments and has continued to issue sunny forecasts after each meeting with Russia officials about the project – only to have cold water thrown on their proclamations by Moscow.

The United States and France have meanwhile ratcheted up the stakes. Early this month, US military officials spoke candidly with Bellona Web, indicating that battle plans for taking out Iran’s nuclear installations were already in the works.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy last month warned that if diplomatic efforts to stop uranium enrichment in Iran failed that the only alternative is "an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."

Sarkozky’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, told the Guardian Monday that "We must prepare for the worst," adding: "The worst, sir, is war."