Russia may delay Iran nuclear plant

Iran FM cancels Moscow visit after Russia hints at using power station as leverage.

Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday abruptly postponed a visit to Moscow planned for this week, officials said. Manouchehr Mottaki had been scheduled to hold talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow during a two-day visit starting Thursday. But a Russian Foreign Ministry official told The Associated Press that the visit had been canceled. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. Iran's apparent diplomatic snub came after Russian officials appeared to suggest it could delay the completion of Iran's first nuclear power station. Experts say that Moscow, which has refused to back tough European-proposed UN sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, could be using its US$1 billion (€800 million) contract to build an atomic power plant in Bushehr, southern Iran, as a lever of pressure on Teheran. A senior Russian nuclear official said earlier Wednesday that Russia would shortly assess the timetable for completing construction of Bushehr. Sergei Shmatko, head of the Russian state company that is in charge of the Bushehr project, said that work so far was on schedule. "At the present time, we have not registered any delays in the timetable for the atomic power station's construction," the state news agency RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. The assessment of the Bushehr project, to be conducted later this month, "will determine the final timetable for its launch," the official said according to ITAR-Tass. In September, Russia agreed to ship fuel to Bushehr by March 2007 and launch the facility in September, adding to the concerns of the US and others over Teheran's nuclear ambitions. But on Tuesday an unidentified Russian nuclear industry official was quoted by news agencies as saying that Russia could postpone the timetable if Iran failed to meet unspecified commitments. According to ITAR-Tass, one of the official problems is that Iran has not adhered to a payment schedule. Russia last week proposed major amendments weakening a European draft resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, but it has shown impatience with the Iranian refusal to meet international demands for a suspension of its sensitive uranium enrichment activities.