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#4 - JRL 7211
Russia to send nuclear fuel to Iran - Itar-Tass

MOSCOW, June 5 (Reuters) - A foreign ministry official said Russia would supply Iran with fuel for a nuclear reactor, whether or not Tehran signs an additional protocol with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Itar-Tass news agency reported on Thursday.

"We will supply nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant even if Iran does not sign a protocol on additional guarantees with the IAEA," ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko was quoted by Tass as saying.

The comments were at odds with a statement to Britain's House of Commons by Prime Minister Tony Blair in which he said Russian President Vladimir Putin had promised to provide no fuel until the protocol was signed.

U.S. officials question why the oil- and gas-rich Islamic republic would be investing in power-generating reactors and suggest Iran may be trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme.

Putin told reporters at the G8 summit this week in the French resort of Evian that Russia would pursue its nuclear programme, making no mention of any suspension of equipment or supplies.

But he also said the nuclear plant being built at Bushehr in southern Iran had to meet all requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The IAEA is to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme this month.

In London, a spokesman for Blair said the prime minister stood by what he had told parliament on Tuesday.

He said Putin made the comments at Evian "during the discussion on weapons of mass destruction and non-proliferation. He said what the prime minister said he said."

Construction of the reactor at Bushehr is to be completed later this year, with the plant due to come on stream next year. Russia has yet to send any fuel to Iran.

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