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Russia, Iran agree on completion schedule for Bushehr plant, reports say

    MOSCOW — Russia and Iran reached agreement Thursday on a schedule for finishing construction of a nuclear power plant that plays a central role in the international tensions over Iran’s atomic program, Russian news agencies reported.
    The reports cited the head of plant contractor Atomstroiexport, Sergei Shmatko, as saying details of the timetable for completing the facility in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr would be released later this month.
    The United States and other critics have long protested construction of the $1 billion plant, saying it would give Iran cover for developing a nuclear weapons program.
    Construction at the plant has been sporadically delayed amid disputes between Iran and Russia over payment, fuel delivery and other issues. But Russia has remained opposed to a U.S.-led push for international sanctions against Iran for allegedly seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
    ‘‘The difficulties with the Iranian customer have been settled,’’ Shmatko was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency. He did not give details of the completion plans, but said that fuel would be delivered to Iran about half a year before the plant launches operations, the agency reported.
    Although Russia has resisted drives to impose sanctions on Iran, it also repeatedly has urged Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to resolve concerns over the nuclear program.
    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that position later Thursday after a meeting in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.
    Lavrov said resolving the controversy is possible ‘‘solely on the basis of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, IAEA rules and principles and, certainly, with Iran proving its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy,’’ according to the Interfax news agency.
    Lavrov spoke by phone Thursday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about ‘‘the continuation of diplomatic efforts on resolving the Iranian nuclear issue,’’ as well as Kosovo, the Foreign Ministry said.
    Shmatko raised the prospect of creating a Russian-Iranian joint venture ‘‘to ensure security’’ at the Bushehr plant, according to the RIA-Novosti agency.
    That could indicate Russian interest in ensuring that enriched uranium at the plant is not stolen or diverted. Depleted fuel rods also could be reprocessed into plutonium.

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