(photo credit: AP)
Despite Russia's first shipment of nuclear fuel to Bushehr on Monday, Moscow has no interest in seeing Iran gain an independent nuclear capability, senior Israeli diplomatic officials said Thursday.
According to the officials, the Russians genuinely believe that safeguards will be in place to keep Iran from using the reactor or the nuclear fuel for a weapons program.
"The Russians are not naive," one of the officials said, and in the final analysis want to keep neighboring Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. At the same time, he said, there is a very wide gap between the Russia assessment of how far along Teheran is in its nuclear development, and Israel's assessment.
"Our difference is over tactics, not goals," the official said. He said this difference in tactics would become clear in January, when the UN is expected to adopt a third Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran for its ongoing uranium enrichment.
According to the official, the Russians will back about half of the items in the basket - the less serious ones - and not back others. The Chinese, the official said, are likely to back even fewer sanctions than the Russians.
Meanwhile, the Russian-built nuclear power plant at Bushehr will not start operating before late next year, the head of the company in charge of its construction said Thursday.
"I can say with certainty that the plant won't be launched before late 2008," Atomstroiexport head Sergei Shmatko said on a trip to China, according to Russian news reports.
Russia's delivery of its first shipment of nuclear fuel paves the way for the long-delayed startup of the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor.
Russian officials have said fuel deliveries would begin about half a year before Bushehr was expected to go into service, but they remained coy about the precise launch date.
The US on Monday said it supported Russia providing enriched uranium to Iran so long as Moscow retrieves the used reactor fuel for reprocessing, as stipulated in an agreement between Russia and Iran.
Although initially opposed to Russian participation in building and supplying Bushehr, the US and its allies agreed to remove any reference to the project in the first set of UN Security Council sanctions passed a year ago, in exchange for Moscow's support for those penalties.