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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rumyantsev Says Iranian Nuclear Deal Close

VIENNA, Austria -- Moscow and Tehran are close to signing an agreement on the return of spent nuclear fuel from a reactor Russia is building in Iran, Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said Tuesday.

"We will agree," he said. "We don't have any contradictions."

The U.S. administration has voiced concern about the $800 million deal at Bushehr since Russia and Iran signed it in 1995 and has urged Moscow to stop all nuclear cooperation with Tehran.

The Kremlin has shrugged off U.S. warnings that the deal could help Tehran build an atomic bomb, but has recently indicated it shares U.S. concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

Last week, ministry officials said the Iranian demand that Russia pay for the spent fuel it would take back for reprocessing was unacceptable.

Rumyantsev, talking to reporters outside the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said who would pay still appeared in dispute but suggested that issue could be put on hold and resolved after the agreement is signed.

The main delay now was a pending decision by Iran on who would sign on behalf of it and where -- in Moscow or Tehran -- and an Iranian delegation was expected in Moscow in the next few days to confer on that issue, Rumyantsev said.

The IAEA board of governors on Friday gave Tehran until the end of next month to prove it is not running a secret nuclear weapons program. The deadline was agreed on the basis of a report by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, which listed the discovery of weapons grade enriched uranium and other evidence that could signal an atomic weapons program.

Tehran insists that its nuclear program is only aimed at generating electricity. Russian officials last week said there were no political reasons behind the latest Russian-Iranian dispute over the return of spent fuel, saying Russia was not linking its cooperation with Iran to Tehran accepting tighter international oversight of its atomic facilities.

Rumyantsev reconfirmed the government's position on the dispute over who pays, saying if Iran insists on charging for the transport of spent fuel to Russia, "the price for the fresh fuel" supplied by Moscow will likely be higher.

Previously, Russian and Iranian officials have made repeated pledges to quickly sign the agreement and said that the only obstacle to signing it was a technical argument relating to environmental protection.

Rumyantsev suggested the Kremlin backs the U.S.-led board resolution containing the October deadline and considers the worries raised by the IAEA report valid, but said suspicions against Iran had not been proven.