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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talks to Resolve Bushehr Funding Dispute Collapse

Itar-TassAtomstroiexport's Sergei Shmatko, second right, greeting the delegation.
Three days of talks aimed at resolving a funding dispute over the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran ended in failure Friday, signaling yet another delay in the start-up of Iran's first atomic power plant and potentially new tension between Tehran and Moscow.

Russia has blamed Iran for paying only a fraction of the required monthly payments of $25 million for construction work at Bushehr in recent months, and warned that the payment delays would push back both the reactor's launch and uranium fuel deliveries.

"The Iranian failure to take quick measures to resume payments will mean [works] falling further behind the schedule," Atomstroiexport, the state-run Russian company building the Bushehr plant, said in a statement released after the talks had finished.

A Russian official familiar with the talks, speaking Friday after three days of talks, said the Iranians had offered to increase the amount of its regular payments for the project, but refused to put that offer in writing.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the talks, said the continuing disagreement meant that Russia would not ship uranium fuel needed to run it this month, as had earlier been planned -- and the reactor would not be launched in September.

Iran has urged Russia to speed up the fuel delivery, but Russian officials said it would only be delivered six months before the plant's launch.

Mohammed Saeedi, the vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran who led the Iranian delegation in the Moscow talks, said in remarks carried by state-run Vesti-24 television that Tehran was ready to provide more funds to enable the plant in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr to be launched in September as planned.

He also strongly urged Russia to deliver uranium fuel for the plant this month, as earlier agreed.

Saeedi denied that had been any payment delays but, striking a condescending note, said his nation was ready to help Atomstroiexport with more funds.

Atomstroiexport officials say Iran has failed to make any payments since Jan. 17. The company said in a statement Friday that the Iranian delegation had promised to resume making payments next week and that a new round of talks was set for next week in Tehran.

Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst at the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations, said the talks failure signaled that Russia was taking a tougher line on Tehran amid the continuing refusal to halt uranium enrichment activities, which the United States and other Western countries say are aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

"Russia is using routine Iranian payment delays as a pretext to delay fuel deliveries and the Bushehr reactor's launch," Pikayev said.

"Russia wants to put pressure on the Iranians to show them that their refusal to heed the [United Nations] Security Council's demands wouldn't go unpunished."