Russia is pulling out its experts from the Iranian nuclear reactor site they were helping build, US and European government representatives said Tuesday.
The move reflected a growing rift between Teheran and Moscow that could lead to harsher UN sanctions on the Islamic republic for its refusal to stop uranium enrichment.
The representatives - a European diplomat and a US official - said a large number of Russian technicians, engineers and other specialists were flown back to Moscow within the last week, at about the same time senior Russian and Iranian officials tried, but failed, to resolve financial differences over the Bushehr nuclear reactor.
"a good number of them have left recently," said the us official, of the approximately 2,000 russian workers on the site of the nearly completed reactor outside the southern city of bushehr. the european diplomat, who is accredited to the vienna-based international atomic energy agency, said a large number had left as recently as last week, during abortive talks in moscow between russian security council head igor ivanov and ali hosseini tash, iran's deputy security council chief.
sergei novikov, a spokesman for rosatom, russia's federal nuclear power agency, confirmed that the number of russian workers at the bushehr plant had recently dwindled because of what he said were iranian payment delays. he would not say how many had left.
the russian departures are publicly linked to a financial row between moscow and teheran - but have a strong political component, linked to international efforts to persuade teheran to freeze activities linked to uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile material for nuclear warheads.
although the reactor is 95 percent completed, russia said this month that further work would be delayed because iran had failed to make monthly payments since january. it said the delay could cause "irreversible" damage to the project.
because of the delay, russia also indefinitely put off delivery of enriched uranium fuel it had promised to provide iran by this month.
iran, which denies falling behind in payments, was furious, convinced russia - which has long blunted a us-led push for harsh un security council sanctions against tehran - was now using the claim of financial arrears as a pretext to increase pressure for it to heed the council.>