In a new blow to Iran's nuclear ambitions, Moscow has warned Teheran it will not deliver fuel to a nearly completed Russian-built nuclear reactor unless Teheran lifts the veil of secrecy on suspicious past atomic activities, a European diplomat said Tuesday. Separately, a US official told The Associated Press that the Russians are not meeting commitments that would allow the Iranians to activate the Bushehr nuclear reactor and suggested the delays were an attempt to pressure Teheran into showing more compliance with UN Security Council demands. Both men demanded anonymity in exchange for speaking to The Associated Press because their information was confidential.
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The increased Russian pressure comes at a time when Iran already appears to be ready to compromise on a key international request - that it lift its shroud of secrecy over past activities that heightened suspicions it might be looking to develop a nuclear arms program.
Those fears led to Security Council demands that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program - and later to UN to sanctions over Teheran's refusal to mothball the program, which can be used both to generate power and to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
With a third set of sanctions looming, Iran last month told the IAEA - the UN nuclear watchdog investigating Iran - that it would answer questions outstanding for years about past experiments and activities that could be linked to a weapons program. That - and a decision to lift a ban on IAEA inspections of a reactor that will produce plutonium once it is completed - appeared aimed at deflecting US-led moves to implement new and harsher sanctions.
IAEA inspectors visited the reactor, near the city of Arak, last month. And a second European diplomat told the AP that Iran had recently began providing valuable information on "four of 10 questions" that the agency was seeking answers to.
Agency officials declined comment. But concerns detailed by past IAEA reports have included suspicions that Teheran has secretly developed elements of a more sophisticated enrichment program than the one it has made public; that it might not have accounted for all the plutonium it processed in past experiments and that its military might have been involved in enrichment, a program that Teheran insists is strictly civilian run. And revelations that Teheran possesses diagrams showing how to form uranium metal into the shape of warheads have heightened concerns.
Russia has played a complicated role in attempts to pressure Teheran to comply with international demands.
It and China have blocked attempts by the US, Britain and France - the three other permanent Security Council members - to impose harsh UN sanctions and have hobbled efforts to move forward on new penalties this summer in the face of continued Iranian refusal to freeze its enrichment activities.
With Iran showing signs that it is ready to shed light on some of its past, unexplained activities, the US-led push for new, more rigorous sanctions has turned into a "steep climb that has become steeper," said the US official.
Still, it has used Bushehr, built by Russian technicians, as a lever. The first European diplomat said Tuesday that Russian officials told the Iranians about two weeks ago that Russian fuel roads to the Bushehr reactor would be held back as long as unresolved questions about Teheran's past nuclear activities remained.
That followed a Russian warning in March that the rods would be withheld as long as the Islamic republic ignored demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.