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Russia delivers nuclear fuel to Iran

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  • NEW: Iranian atomic chief says plant 95% complete, power from it next year
  • Russia begins fuel deliveries to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant
  • Some suspect the power plant is being used to develop nuclear weapons
  • Iran denies its nuclear program is intended for anything but peaceful purposes
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russia started delivering nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant this week as part of a compromise effort to alleviate concerns over Iran's nuclear intentions while supporting Iran's right to a nuclear energy program.

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Russia says its fuel can only be used at and for the Bushehr plant.

Atomstroiexport, Russia's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, completed the first stage of deliveries on Sunday, the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency said.

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Reza Aghazadeh, was quoted by Iran's Fars News Agency as telling Iranian state television that the shipment arrived Monday.

The United States, several European nations, and Israel suspect Tehran has been trying to acquire nuclear weapons, but Iran denies its nuclear program is for anything but peaceful purposes.

A recent U.S. intelligence summary concluded that, contrary to earlier suspicions, Iran halted its nuclear weapons development in 2003.

Atomstroiexport, the Russian monopoly, is building the $1 billion Bushehr plant under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency. The Russian foreign ministry and nuclear officials said the fuel delivery was under full IAEA safeguards.

"The Bushehr plant is 95 percent completed and I promise the Iranian nation that the electricity generated by this nuclear plant will enter the country's electricity network next year," Aghazadeh said, in comments carried by Fars.

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A statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry's official Web site Monday said Iran had provided additional written guarantees that the fuel can only be used at and for the Bushehr plant, and that the spent fuel will be returned to Russia for utilization and storage.

"The nuclear fuel is being delivered to Iran about six months ahead of the time when it will be actually used for producing energy, as stipulated by technical requirements," the statement read.

The fuel deliveries will be made in several stages over two months, Russian nuclear officials said. The first stage was completed, officials said, when IAEA-certified fuel containers were delivered to a special storage facility, inspected by the IAEA, at the plant.

The United States supports the Russian plan to enrich uranium on its soil, which is a compromise effort to alleviate Washington's concerns over Iran's nuclear intentions and Russia's support for Iran's right to a nuclear energy program.

President Bush said he voiced his support for the program in a phone call to President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.

"One of the interesting tactical decisions that Russia has made -- that the United States supports -- is the notion that Iran has a sovereign right to have a civilian nuclear power program," Bush said.

"What they don't have is our confidence that they should be able to enrich uranium so that those plants would work. Why? Because they had a covert weapons program that they did not declare and have yet to declare."

The U.N. Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium and has imposed limited sanctions on Tehran for refusing to comply. Russia, France, and China -- all permanent Security Council members -- have voiced concerns about the proposed sanctions.

A recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate said Iran stopped work toward a nuclear weapon while under international scrutiny in 2003 and is unlikely to be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb until 2010 to 2015.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed the report and declared that Iran is a "peaceful nuclear country."

Aghazadeh expressed hope that with Iran-IAEA cooperation, there would no longer be any legal excuse for Iran's nuclear case to remain at the Security Council and that it would be returned to the IAEA.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia wants to settle the situation.

"Certainly, we are interested in having all issues surrounding Iran's nuclear program finally settled as early as possible," he said in Moscow after talks with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

This is possible "solely on the basis of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, IAEA rules and principles, and certainly, with Iran proving its right to a peaceful use of nuclear energy," Lavrov said.

Lavrov said there had been some progress in the talks between Iran and the IAEA.

"We encourage further advancement which will allow us to finally take this issue off the international agenda," Lavrov said.

Construction of the plant was expected to be completed in September, Interfax said, but was delayed because of lack of financing and delayed equipment deliveries from other countries.

Atomstroiexport hopes to announce a new date for completing the construction in late December, Interfax said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Maxim Tkachenko contributed to this report.

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