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Russia to supply nuclear fuel for Iran plant

TEHRAN -- Russia's top nuclear official will sign a deal today to supply Iran with fuel for its first nuclear reactor, an Iranian official said. The agreement has safeguards intended to prevent use of the fuel for weapons, but it is sure to add to US concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

The United States and Israel fear the Iranians could use the Bushehr reactor to build nuclear weapons. Russia argues that cannot happen because the deal calls for spent fuel to be returned, and UN nuclear specialists will monitor the facility.

President Bush's meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Slovakia on Thursday touched on US concerns over the Iranian reactor. But Putin has said he is sure Iran does not intend to build nuclear weapons, and Russian cooperation with the country would go ahead.

The head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, is to sign an agreement today concerning the supply and return of nuclear fuel, said Ali Hafezi, an official of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. The agreement has been delayed by what Iranian and Russian officials called technical and financial details. But diplomats in Vienna say US pressure on Russia also has held it up.

Russia could be delivering nuclear fuel to Iran within two months of signing the deal, Rumyantsev spokesman Nikolai Shingarov said last week.

Russia helped build the $800 million reactor at Bushehr in southern Iran, and construction is now complete on the light water reactor capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

The United States, which accuses Iran of having a secret nuclear arms program, had long urged Russia to terminate its assistance to Iran's nuclear development.

In its drive to stop Iran from gaining any ability to make nuclear weapons, the United States is ready to give European allies only until June to cajole Tehran before Washington seeks UN sanctions, Reuters said, citing US diplomatic documents.

Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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