Russia and the United States
publicly clashed over Iran’s nuclear programme after Vladimir Putin announced
that Moscow would start up Tehran’s first and only nuclear power plant this
US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, who is in Moscow for talks on the Middle East and a stalled US-Russia
nuclear arms reduction treaty, said the Russian move was “premature”
and urged an urgent rethink.
“If it (Iran) reassures the
world, or if its behaviour is changed because of international sanctions, then
they can pursue peaceful civil nuclear power,” she said.
“In the absence of those
reassurances, we think it would be premature to go forward with any project at
this time because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians.”
Iran was not fulfilling its
international obligations and had to understand that there could be “consequences”
for its lack of co-operation, she added.
Seated beside her, Sergey Lavrov,
Russia’s blunt-speaking foreign minister, gave Mrs Clinton short shrift and
argued that making Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant operational would keep
Tehran engaged with the international community.
“The project will be
completed. Bushehr plays a special role in maintaining the International Atomic
Energy Agency’s presence in Iran and in ensuring that Iran is complying with
its non-proliferation obligations,” he said.
The public disagreement comes as
Washington seeks to perform the tricky task of building international support
for new sanctions against Iran while “resetting” its troubled relationship
with the Kremlin. The “reset,” which is being personally pushed by
President Barack Obama, has so far turned out to be largely rhetorical and
short on substance.
Russian officials say the almost $1.1
billion plant will probably be launched in July. Its completion has been
repeatedly delayed due to technical and political snags since 1995 when Russia
first became involved with the controversial but lucrative project. Iran has
recently begun publicly doubting Russia’s loyalty as an ally due in part to the
long delays in starting up the plant.