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    RUSSIA IS IRAN'S STRATEGIC PARTNER IN ATOMIC ENERGY, SAYS IRAN'S VICE PRESIDENT

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    TEHRAN, February 18 (RIA Novosti correspondent Nikolai Terekhov) - Russia is Iran's strategic partner in the atomic energy national program, Golam Reza Agazade, the vice president of Iran and the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (AEO), told RIA Novosti in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

    "Russia is Iran's strategic partner and we naturally give the Russian Federation top priority," he said.

    The Iranian vice president said, "while other countries turned away from us, Russia helped us, cooperated with us, and we are sure to take that into account when considering the construction of a second power unit at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr [on the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf]".

    Meanwhile, Mr. Agazade expressed concern about the delayed construction of the first power unit at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

    "Due to the delayed start up of the first power unit at the nuclear power plant, the public opinion in Iran is that the completion of the construction of the power plant is either impossible or hampered by certain political impediments," said Mr. Agazade.

    Earlier, the Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev (the Bushehr nuclear power plant is being built by Russian experts) said that the first power unit would be commissioned in late 2005, and in 2006 the power plant would be included in Iran's energy grid.

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