updated 12/17/2007 5:15:09 AM ET 2007-12-17T10:15:09

Russia has made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr plant, which is at the center of the international tensions over Tehran's nuclear program, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Iran contends the nuclear power plant operation in Bushehr is strictly for civilian purposes, but many critics suspect Tehran intends to use the plant as part of an alleged effort to develop nuclear weapons.

Construction at Bushehr had been frequently delayed. Officials said the delays were due to payment disputes, but many observers suggested Russia also was unhappy with Iran's resistance to international pressure to make its nuclear program more open and to assure the international community that it was not developing nuclear arms.

"All fuel that will be delivered will be under the control and guarantees of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the whole time it stays on Iranian territory," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Moreover, the Iranian side gave additional written guarantees that the fuel will be used only for the Bushehr nuclear power plant."

Program frozen
Russia announced last week that its construction disputes with Iran had been resolved and said fuel deliveries would begin about a half year before Bushehr was expected to go into service.

Two weeks ago, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report concluded that Iran had halted efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003 and that the program had been frozen through at least the middle of this year.

Although Russia has resisted drives to impose sanctions on Iran, it also repeatedly has urged Tehran to cooperate with the Vienna, Austria-based IAEA to resolve concerns over the nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that position last week after a meeting in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

Security concerns
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."

Officials at Atomstryexport, the Russian contractor for Bushehr, raised the prospect last week 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.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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