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    Russian officials rush to deny claims on halt to Iran NPP work

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    Senior Russian officials rejected Friday a claim that Moscow could stop the construction of a controversial nuclear power plant in Iran if the UN imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

    MOSCOW, September 8 (RIA Novosti) - Senior Russian officials rejected Friday a claim that Moscow could stop the construction of a controversial nuclear power plant in Iran if the UN imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

    An unnamed source among Russia's nuclear negotiators told RIA Novosti earlier in the day that the construction of the Bushehr plant, 250 miles southwest of Tehran, could be halted if the UN imposed sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt enrichment work or if it expelled inspectors with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in the Palestinian Authority, "This is not a report, but a clear provocation. Quite a number of people want to complicate the situation around the problems of Iran's nuclear program from various angles."

    Atomstroiexport, the Russian nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, is building the Bushehr NPP's first power unit under a $1 billion contract signed by Russia and Iran in 1995. Germany's Siemens originally started the project in 1975 but work stopped with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

    In Moscow, Sergei Novikov, the press secretary for Russia's civilian nuclear agency, refused to comment on the report but did say that construction work would continue.

    "As long the construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant remains within the framework of international law, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power will conduct the nuclear plant's construction within the agreed timeframe."

    The plant is scheduled to be commissioned in the second half of 2007 after the original date at the end of 2006 was put back

    Iran has been at the center of an international dispute this year over its nuclear ambitions. Some countries suspect the Islamic Republic of pursuing a covert weapons program, but Tehran has consistently denied the claims and says it needs nuclear energy for civilian needs.

    The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1696 July 31, demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment by August 31 or face possible economic and diplomatic sanctions. However, an IAEA report said Tehran had refused to suspend the program and had blocked IAEA inspectors from inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities.

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