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    RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DEFEND IRAN'S RIGHT TO DEVELOP ITS OWN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

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    MOSCOW, March 1 (RIA Novosti) - Iran has every right to develop a nuclear program of its own, but it should buy raw material from foreign suppliers, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said at a press conference Tuesday. The Russian stance on Iran's nuclear program is identical to that of the European Union, he said.

    Speaking of US concerns over the uranium enrichment centrifuges found in Iran, the Russian Defense Minister cautioned the Bush Administration against unleashing a military campaign against that country, like it had done vis-a-vis Iraq, and said that not all diplomatic ways of settling the conflict had yet been tried. Both Russia and the EU hope that a negotiated solution will be found, he said.

    American officials allege that the uranium enrichment centrifuges found in Iran are Russian-made. Mr. Ivanov dismissed the allegation as false and pointed the finger of blame to European partners, namely the British-German-Dutch multinational Urenco (Uranium Enrichment Company). According to him, the centrifuges got into Iran through Pakistan.

    The Defense Minister then went on to speak about Russia's involvement in the Bushehr project. Mr. Ivanov said Russo-Iranian cooperation in the construction of the first nuclear reactor at Bushehr was absolutely legitimate and that it met all international standards. He reminded the media that Bushehr has been under the control of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Once the Bushehr plant is put into operation, Russia will begin brining in nuclear fuel to keep it running, he said. The fuel it is going to provide has an isotopic composition unsuitable for a nuclear weapon production, he assured the press.

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