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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Russia delays Iran reactor yet again, until Bush leaves office

NICOSIA — Russia, ignoring yet another contract deadline, has again delayed plans to launch operations of Iran's first nuclear reactor.

Iranian and Russian officials said Russia's Atomstroiexport would be unable to begin operations of Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor before the second quarter of 2009. They said the Russian project has been hampered by unidentified technical flaws, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We hope the current technical problems will be removed as soon as possible," Iranian parliamentary chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi said on Sept. 9.

Western intelligence sources said Russia was expected to delay the opening of Bushehr until at least the departure of U.S. President George Bush from office. The sources said Moscow has quietly agreed to postpone full operations of the nuclear reactor until Iran agrees to a Western proposal to halt uranium enrichment.

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Boroujerdi, chairman of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, did not elaborate, but said Atomstroiexport pledged to begin operations at Bushehr in February 2009. He said Russia ended delays in the supply of nuclear fuel for Bushehr.

Officials said the delays could mark a delay of five to eight months in the opening of Iran's 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor. They said Moscow had pledged to launch full operations of Bushehr in November 2008.

"Between December 2008 and February 2009 various technical measures will be carried out that will make the physical start-up process of the first Bushehr reactor irreversible," Atomstroiexport director Sergie Shmatko said.

Officials said Russia has pledged to accelerate efforts to complete Bushehr, a project that has cost more than $1 billion. Officials said Atomstroiexport has entered the final stages of preparations of the facility.

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