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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Raps Army Drill Near Bushehr

APRussian technicians working on a reactor in the Bushehr plant last week.
The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed its annoyance to Tehran over an Iranian air defense exercise near a Russian-built nuclear plant.

The statement reflected the growing tension in bilateral ties over a dispute involving funding for the Bushehr plant, in addition to Moscow's irritation with Iran's refusal to freeze its uranium enrichment program in line with international demands.

The Iranian air defense forces did not notify Russian officials before conducting maneuvers Friday near the nuclear plant, being built by Russia in the southern port of Bushehr, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.

"The Russian Embassy has expressed bewilderment, and asked that Russian experts in Bushehr be informed about such events in advance," Kamynin said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Federal Atomic Energy Agency said tests of what he believed were air defense rockets had been carried out at 5 a.m. near the plant, where 2,000 Russians work.

"Russian specialists weren't warned about this practice and were woken up by the artillery roar, which of course, in our view, creates tension on the site and disrupts their work," the spokesman, Sergei Novikov, said by telephone.

Russia delayed Bushehr's launch, which had been set for September, and refused to ship uranium fuel for the reactor last month as earlier planned, citing Iran's payment arrears. Iranian officials denied any payment delays under the $1 billion contract, and accused Russia of caving in to Western pressure.

Also Wednesday, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov urged Tehran to allow the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to monitor its uranium enrichment effort.

"The IAEA must closely observe the Iranian enrichment effort to make sure it's not enriched beyond the level that would make it weapons grade," Ivanov said in televised remarks.

At the same time, Ivanov reaffirmed Russia's push for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, warning that the use of force would lead to a "catastrophe."

Meanwhile, a senior Iranian official dismissed Russian doubts about whether Iran had achieved industrial-scale nuclear fuel production. "Maybe they thought we needed more time to reach the industrial stage, but due to the efforts of our specialists we have already reached that stage," said the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organization, Mohammad Saeedi.

AP, Reuters