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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

White House: Russia Suspended Iran Deal

Russia agreed to suspend a contract to sell Iran laser technology that Washington believes can help make fuel for nuclear weapons, the White House said Tuesday, saying U.S. President Bill Clinton raised the matter with President Vladimir Putin in two meetings this summer.

The White House had been working for three months to persuade Moscow to scotch the contract under which a center associated with the Nuclear Energy Ministry would sell the technology to Iran.

Russian technology transfers to Iran are a long-standing irritant in the U.S.-Russian relationship and are regularly raised by Washington when officials from the two sides meet.

U.S. officials said Putin had assured Clinton when they met two weeks ago in New York that Moscow would work with Washington to resolve the matter.

Russian and U.S. technical officials had disagreed on whether the equipment could help Iran in what the United States contends is a secret program to acquire nuclear bombs, the officials said.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, however, said the contract in question had been suspended.

The White House said Clinton pressed Putin on the matter both in New York, where the two met on the sidelines of the United Nations Millennium Summit two weeks ago, and in July at the annual Group of Seven Summit in Okinawa, Japan.

The United States’ charges that Russia is providing critical technology to Iran has roiled their relations for years. U.S. intelligence agencies long have believed that Iran has a secret program to develop nuclear weapons, as well as biological and chemical arms. Given its ample oil and gas resources, Iran’s desire to generate electricity with nuclear power, the analysts argued, was automatically seen as suspicious.

Russia’s nuclear contacts with Tehran have expanded since 1995, when cash-strapped Moscow signed a contract with Iran to complete the Bushehr nuclear power station, which its German builders had abandoned in 1979 at the onset of the Iranian revolution. Despite pressure by the Clinton administration and sanctions by the U.S. Congress, which has cut foreign aid payments to Moscow in half in the past two years, Russia has refused to abandon the project.

U.S. officials do not regard Bushehr as a source of nuclear material that could be diverted to a bomb-making program, but the administration fears that the project will train an entire generation of Iranian physicists and engineers in nuclear technologies, and thus enhance its nuclear scientific base, including any program to develop nuclear weapons.

Russian and Iranian officials argue that Iran has foresworn nuclear weapons and has placed the Bushehr plant under the safeguards and the inspection regime of the international agency.

Russia had refused to forgo revenue from Bushehr and future reactor sales, each of which could be worth up to $1 billion. But former President Boris Yeltsin pledged not to expand Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran beyond Bushehr, where as many as four reactor and turbine units are still planned.