updated 8/7/2007 6:26:04 PM ET 2007-08-07T22:26:04

Russia is increasing pressure on Iran to be more open about its nuclear program, threatening to indefinitely withhold fuel for a Russian-built reactor unless Tehran lifts secrecy shrouding past nuclear activities, diplomats said Tuesday.

Russia warned in March that it would not provide fuel rods for the reactor it is building in the southern city of Bushehr as long as Iran ignored U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment, diplomats said.

Now, Moscow has modified that demand, saying no fuel will be provided unless Iran meets another key international request — that it fully explain past activities that heightened suspicions it might be looking to develop a nuclear arms program, two diplomats familiar with Iran’s nuclear file told The Associated Press.

The two, commenting separately, spoke on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as Iranian and Russian officials, declined comment.

A 'tacit understanding'
Moscow has played a complicated role in attempts to pressure Tehran to comply with international demands.

With China, Russia has blunted attempts by the U.S., Britain and France — the three other permanent Security Council members — to impose harsh U.N. sanctions, leaving Washington no choice but to accept two sets of watered-down penalties.

Still, Moscow has used the Bushehr reactor as a lever to push for some key international demands, like more openness, according to diplomats with knowledge of the two countries’ interactions.

The Security Council still formally demands an end to enrichment, which can be used to generate power and to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

But one of the diplomats, who has deep knowledge of Iran’s file with the U.N., told the AP that there was now “tacit understanding” in New York that if Tehran fully cooperates and leaves no IAEA question unanswered, there would be no new U.N. sanctions unless the agency probe turns up evidence of attempts to make nuclear weapons. That would represent another concession by Washington to pressure from the Russians and Chinese.

Moscow has depicted delays in finishing construction on Bushehr — now 95 percent finished but eight years behind schedule — as due to Iranian foot-dragging in making payments on the $1 billion contract.

'More than routine problems'
A U.S. official, also agreeing to discuss confidential information under condition of anonymity, questioned Russia’s public assertions that the delays were for purely financial reasons.

“I’ve seen some stuff that indicates that the delays in providing fuel are more than routine problems over the contract,” he said.

Even before the increased Russian pressure, Iran agreed to make new concessions in an apparent attempt to stave off new sanctions.

Tehran told the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency last month that it would answer questions about past experiments and activities that could be linked to a weapons program. In recent months Iran also has slowed down its enrichment activities and lifted a ban on IAEA inspections of a plutonium reactor under construction.

Past IAEA reports have expressed concerns that Tehran has secretly developed elements of a more sophisticated enrichment program than the one it has made public; that it might not have accounted for all the plutonium it processed in past experiments and that its military might have been involved in enrichment, a program that Tehran insists is strictly civilian-run. Revelations that Tehran possesses diagrams showing how to form uranium metal into the shape of warheads have heightened concerns.

In Algeria Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that his country will continue pursuing nuclear energy and will refuse to talk with any countries that do not recognize Tehran’s right to civilian nuclear power.

“Iran cannot hold discussions with countries that do not recognize this right,” he told a news conference during a visit to Algiers. “The Iranian people will ... continue their efforts toward acquiring nuclear energy for peaceful ends.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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