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Author`s name Alex Naumov

Bushehr nuclear plant launch delayed over new crisis in Russia-Iran relations

Moscow has delayed the start-up of Iran's first nuclear power station to 2008 because Tehran has fallen behind with payments for the Bushehr plant, a top Russian official said on Thursday.

The timing of the plant's start-up is significant as it is viewed by Israel and the United States as an important element in a nuclear drive which they suspect is a front for developing nuclear weapons. Iran says the program is entirely peaceful.

Russia has repeatedly delayed the plant which under the latest schedule was due to be started up in September 2007. A Russian sub-contractor said on Wednesday the plant, in southwest Iran, had no chance of being launched before autumn 2008.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said in Baku that Tehran was still behind in payments for the plant and that the delay was not political.

"It will clearly not be possible to start-up the atomic station this year so it will be moved to the next year," Kislyak told reporters, citing the payment problems, Reuters reports

"We are fully determined to take Bushehr to its logical conclusion and launch the atomic power station," he said.

The Itar-Tass news agency earlier reported Kislyak had said Bushehr would be inaugurated in early 2008.

shipping parts for the plant from other countries.

Bushehr is Iran's first nuclear power plant.

Tuesday, the United Nations' nuclear agency said it will inspect Iran's heavy-water nuclear reactor under construction in Arak early next week.

Iran agreed two weeks ago to allow inspections by the end of this month as part of an agreement aimed at resolving questions about its nuclear activities.

The U.N. Security Council has already imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, and there are calls for more, reports.

Russia has repeatedly rejected Iranian claims that the Bushehr plant could be launched this year -- a position welcomed in Washington, which has urged Moscow to delay the launch.

The Bushehr power plant is considered proliferation safe, but Washington fears that Iran's civilian nuclear program could cover nuclear weapons development.

Earlier today, a Russian subcontractor working on Bushehr called a 2007 start date 'unrealistic, adding, 'the real date for the physical launch of the power plant is being delayed until autumn 2008.'

Construction stalled earlier this year over charges that Iran had fallen behind on payments, as well as delays in shipping parts for the plant from third countries, Thomson Financial reports

'Payments are coming now, but not in the amount we need. This has affected our subcontractors' financial situation,' Atomstroiexport spokeswoman Yesipova said.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik