BISHKEK (AFP) -A nuclear power station being built by Russia in Iran presents no threat, Moscow’s top nuclear official said here following a US demand for the project to be shut down.
“The building of the Bushehr nuclear power station does not threaten the non-proliferation regime,” Rosatom nuclear agency head Sergei Kiriyenko told journalists in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said during a visit to Moscow Thursday that “it is important for countries to stop cooperation with Iran on nuclear issues, even on civilian nuclear issues like the Bushehr facility.”
Burns made clear that he was talking about various countries’ work with Iran’s nuclear industry. However, Russia is Iran’s biggest nuclear partner and is building the country’s first atomic power station at Bushehr.
“A number of countries are continuing to permit the export of dual-use materials that could be used, and we think in some cases are being used, to help the growth of Iran’s nuclear industry,” Burns said.
“It is the view of my government that it would be appropriate now for those individual governments to stop that practice and no longer permit it.”
Earlier Burns claimed growing support for sanctions.
“Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that is new,” Burns said after two days of talks in Moscow with other UN powers and Group of Eight members.
Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s armed forces said his country would not take sides if the current Iran crisis led to a military conflict.
“Of course Russia will not, at least I as head of the general staff, suggest the use of force on one side or the other. Just as was the case in Afghanistan,” chief of general staff General Yury Baluyevsky told reporters, referring to the 2001 US-led intervention to oust the Taliban.
Diplomats went into the Moscow talks repeating calls to build a united front in order to keep Tehran from exploiting their divisions to forge ahead with uranium enrichment.
Iran insists its program is peaceful, but Western powers — led by the United States — suspect it of developing a secret atomic weapons program.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had earlier Wednesday called for a show of unity from the world powers huddled in Moscow.
“I would have thought that this is the time for the world to send a clear and united message to the Iranian regime,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy warned, too, that the veto-holding UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — must be together if they were to dissuade Iran.
“If, on the contrary, the Chinese and the Russians, if the international community is not united it makes it easy for the Iranians to continue” to defy international demands to halt the program, he said.
Paris and London were quick to stress that use of force was not on the table. French President Jacques Chirac, on a visit to Cairo, said world powers must “explore all diplomatic possibilities,” and Blair said, “Nobody is talking about military invasion of Iran or military action against Iran.”
Russia and China, both of whom have strong trade ties to Iran, have shown extreme reluctance to threaten the use of force or even sanctions against the regime.
Burns refused to rule out unilateral action by Washington but said it would be “best” to work with other countries in doing so.
“We are going to act to deny Iran nuclear weapons capability,” he said.
He also urged Moscow to dump plans to deliver to Iran a consignment of Tor-M1 mobile air defence systems, only hours after General Baluyevsky confirmed that deal would go through.
“It would be logical for that arms sale not to go forward,” Burns said later. “No country should sell weapons to a regime like that.”
Tehran, which has resumed its nuclear activities in defiance of a UN demand for a freeze, announced last week it had successfully enriched a small amount of uranium for use as nuclear fuel.
Meanwhile, Britain, France and Germany — the European Union negotiating team called the EU-3 — held surprise talks in Moscow with an Iranian delegation.
Tehran said earlier Wednesday that an Iranian delegation had arrived in Moscow, led by deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi and aides to Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
A senior French official told AFP after the meeting that Iran planned to step up uranium enrichment work soon and had asked European countries to participate in this effort.
Senior diplomats from the Group of Eight powers were in Moscow for talks ostensibly to prepare for a July summit but which were clearly overshadowed by the Iran standoff.
The UN Security Council is awaiting a report due by April 28 from Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on whether Iran has complied with its demands to freeze uranium enrichment.
Iran insists its program is peaceful, but enrichment can be extended from making reactor fuel to the production of warheads.
The row and Iran’s defiant stand have helped drive oil prices to all-time highs and gold values to within sight of a 25-year high.