#1 - JRL 7207
Putin wants IAEA checks on Iran nuclear programme
By Ron Popeski
EVIAN, France, June 3 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia would continue building a nuclear power station for Iran, but insisted Tehran's nuclear programme had to come under stricter international control.
Putin reaffirmed his commitment to the Bushehr power plant in southern Iran -- a day after G8 states urged both Iran and North Korea to curb their nuclear programmes.
"We cooperate with Iran, our neighbour, and will cooperate further with Iran," Putin told a news conference at the end of the Group of Eight summit of industrialised countries.
"At the same time we believe the decisive role in non- proliferation must be played by the IAEA.... We will insist that the entire Iranian programme in the nuclear sphere be placed under the control of the IAEA."
Putin also praised U.S. President George W. Bush for keeping close ties to Moscow despite major differences over the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Moscow has in recent weeks responded to longstanding U.S. calls to stop helping Iran's nuclear development by agreeing to ensure Tehran's programme met requirements of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Russian nuclear cooperation with any country would be "based on the extent to which their programmes are open and placed under the control of the IAEA."
But in an apparent reference to worries that rivals might snatch the Iranian deal from Russia, Putin said: "We are categorically opposed to bringing in any problems which could be used for unfair competition, including on the Iranian market."
Russian officials have said that the $800 million Bushehr project is consistent with a civil nuclear programme. They deny U.S. accusations that oil-rich Iran has no need for nuclear power and is secretly trying to acquire atomic weapons.
A senior Russian official restated Moscow's contention that Iran was not violating any of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1970. But given G8 concerns, Iran must prove by an IAEA meeting this month that its programme was strictly peaceful, he said.
Iran has yet to sign an additional protocol to the NPT treaty which would allow U.N. inspections at short notice.
Russian companies have expressed concern that oil deals they signed with Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in power may be handed to U.S. oil majors after the war that ousted the Iraqi leader.
Putin said he appreciated that Bush had not moved to punish Russia for its opposition to the U.S.-led war.
"The president of the United States could have behaved differently. He could have taken offence, he might not have come to St Petersburg," Putin said, referring to last week's meeting of world leaders in Russia's second city.
"But President Bush chose a different tactic, a different way. He has proved to be a serious politician who wants to develop relations with Russia."
Russia joined France and Germany in rejecting the use of force to pursue Washington's objective of ensuring Baghdad held no banned weapons, but has since backed a U.N. resolution allowing for long-standing sanctions on Iraq to be lifted.