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Russia Puts Terms on Nuke Cooperation
June 22, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would condition its nuclear cooperation with Iran on Tehran's openness to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

In an interview conducted Friday with Sir David Frost for the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Breakfast with Frost program, Putin also said Moscow would insist that the new Iraqi authorities allow some of Russia's major investment projects to go forward.

``We think it's quite justified in terms of current international law. And let me tell you, we have every reason to count on the support of international legal bodies,'' Putin said. ``I must add that my partners - both the British prime minister and the U.S. president - do not deny that Russian firms have the right to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq.''

The interview was conducted four days before Putin travels to Britain for the first state visit by a Russian leader since 1874. Putin told Frost that the visit underlined a new, high level of ties between the two countries.

``There has been more trust - relations have become more pragmatic. They are no longer about ideology. We have become true partners,'' Putin said.

In spite of their cooperation, Putin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush still have plenty of disagreements over the means to achieving their goals, Putin said. But they see eye to eye on the problems that need to be tackled, he said.

``We agree about the threats we all face in the 21st century. And this unites us,'' Putin said in the interview, which was also to be broadcast on BBC World.

He said the proliferation of nuclear weapons was threat No. 1, and pointed to the dangerous situation in South Asia, as well as in North Korea and the Middle East. He said Russia would not, however, curtail its nuclear cooperation with Iran, which the United States and other western countries allege is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

Instead, Putin said, Moscow will insist that Tehran provide maximum access to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

``We shall develop our relations on nuclear issues - not only with Iran but with other countries too - depending on how open they are to that established and respected international organization whose experts we all trust,'' Putin said.

Russia has a $800 million contract to build a nuclear power plant in Iran. Under U.S. pressure, Russia has urged Iran to open itself up to broader nuclear inspections, but it has not up to now made fulfillment of the power plant contract contingent on Tehran's signing of an additional IAEA protocol that would provide the U.N. organization with greater access.

Putin said Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had said in a telephone conversation last week that ``Iran was prepared to join all agreements and to place all its nuclear programs under control.'' It was not clear, however, whether Khatami had committed to signing the protocol insisted on by Russia's partners in the Group of Eight leading industrial countries.

Putin said Russia had concerns about Tehran's nuclear program but reiterated Russia's argument that the threat was being exaggerated by countries intent on keeping their own foot in Iran.

``We know that some western European companies closely cooperate with Iran in that sphere and supply it with equipment that is of dual use, to say the least,'' Putin said.

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