TEHRAN (Reuters) -Iran’s talks with Russia on the start-up of the Islamic state’s first nuclear power plant are making progress, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, days after local media reports said a deal had already been reached.
Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted on Thursday as saying Iran had agreed a timetable with Russia for the inauguration of the Bushehr power station, a project caught up in a row with the West over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
But a spokesman for Russian contractor Atomstroiexport said negotiations were still under way, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman appeared to take a similar line on Sunday.
“The process of our technical negotiations with Russia is suitably progressing,” spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a regular news briefing. “What is important, is the Russian officials’ firm decision to complete the project.”
“We have to wait until the end of negotiations,” he added, when asked about the different statements from Larijani and Atomstroiexport last week.
The timing of the power station’s launch is significant as it is viewed by the United States as an important element in a nuclear drive which the West suspects is a front for developing atomic weapons. Iran says the program is entirely peaceful.
Russia has repeatedly delayed the plant which under a previous schedule was due to be started up in September 2007, citing missed payments. A Russian sub-contractor has since said there is no chance of it happening before autumn 2008.
Moscow has traditionally been seen as Tehran’s closest big-power ally but the delays to Bushehr have chilled relations.
Russia says there is no evidence that Tehran has the capability to make nuclear weapons, but ties have been strained by what it says are millions of dollars in missed payments.
Iranian officials say they have made the proper payments and that Moscow is delaying due to pressure from the West.