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Nuclear talks with Iran could take long Time-Russia
( 2003-09-19 16:25) (Agencies)

Talks to finalize a deal that will clear the way for Russian nuclear fuel to be shipped to Iran's Bushehr power plant could take a long time, Russia's atomic energy minister said on Friday.

"Our talks could last a long time," the minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, told reporters.

The talks have snagged over Iran's unusual demands that Russia pays for the spent fuel that Tehran would have to return under the bilateral deal that has come in for strong criticism from the United States.

Washington is convinced that Iran, which it brackets as part of the "axis of evil" together with pre-war Iraq and North Korea, is using the construction of the Bushehr reactor to mask a secret nuclear weapons program. Tehran denies this.

Rumyantsev, speaking after talks with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, said one option Russia was studying to solve the dispute with Tehran was to increase the price of the nuclear fuel it would ship to Iran to make the Bushehr reactor active.

"An option for us could be to increase the price of fresh fuel. Talks are going on and it is premature to talk about any financial scheme at the moment," he said.

Washington is hoping to talk Russia out of the $800-million Bushehr project that has become an irritant in U.S.-Russian relations. Russia, while sharing U.S. concerns at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, says U.S. suspicions against Iran lack proof.

Asked pointedly by a reporter whether Russia was dragging its heels over the deal with Iran to please Washington on the eve of a U.S.-Russia presidential summit, Rumyantsev said: "This does not correspond to reality."

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