MOSCOW - Iran wants Russia to help it build more nuclear power plants in addition to the country's first reactor now nearing completion, Iran's Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said yesterday.
"We have plans for building, besides the Bushehr nuclear power plant, several others having a total capacity of 6,000 megawatts, and we are inviting Russia to take this opportunity," Aghazadeh, who also heads Iran's atomic energy organization, said in an interview with the Itar-Tass news agency.
While Iran's hopes to build additional power plants are not new, the positive tone of Aghazadeh's comments was significant because it implies that Russia might agree to cooperate despite fierce objections from Washington, which fears Iran is engaged in a clandestine nuclear-weapons program.
Working under an $800 million contract, Russia has helped Iran build a nearly completed 1,000- megawatt light-water reactor in the western port of Bushehr. Iran may also seek to build a second reactor at that site.
Iran has come under mounting international pressure in recent weeks - not just from Washington but from the European Union and the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency - to accept tougher inspections of its nuclear sites.
Iran has expressed willingness in principle to sign additional safeguard protocols, but only if other countries commit to assisting it with civilian nuclear technology.
The fear in Washington and some other capitals is that Iran's nuclear power program in combination with secret weapons research could give it the knowledge and materials to build nuclear bombs.
A senior Bush administration official said in Moscow this year that one of Washington's top priorities is to ensure that Russia doesn't agree to help build any additional power plants besides the first Bushehr reactor.
Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev, speaking at a news conference yesterday, defended his country's nuclear dealings with Iran.
"Many criticize us, saying that Russia is supplying nuclear military know-how to Iran, and demand on these grounds that the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant be stopped," he said. "I would like to say officially that there is no cooperation between Russia and Iran other than that on the peaceful utilization of nuclear technology."
David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.