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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran drill near Bushehr mounts tensions over Russia-led project

RIA Novosti

11/04/2007 11:41 MOSCOW, April 11 (RIA Novosti) - Iran's military exercise near the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the south of the country April 6 raises tensions around the $1-billion Russia-led project, a Moscow nuclear official said Wednesday.

Media reports in late March suggested that the U.S. could launch an operation, codenamed Bite, against Iran early April 6 to deliver air strikes at its nuclear facilities in a bid to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"Armed military exercises at 5 a.m. near the construction site of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, without any warning given to Russian experts, further raises tensions around the project," Sergei Novikov, spokesman of the Russian Agency for Nuclear Power, said commenting on the exercises held Friday near the plant, which is surrounded by anti-aircraft systems.

The project, built under a 1995 contract, was suspended last month over what Russia called delayed payments from Iran since mid-January. On March 26, Moscow said Tehran had resumed financing, but added it still had to cover arrears. Negotiations are continuing this week in Tehran.

The project, implemented under UN supervision, was to be commissioned at the end of 2006 but the date has been repeatedly revised.

Iran's nuclear research, namely its enrichment of uranium that can be used in nuclear weapons, has been at the center of international attention since early last year. Iran says it needs nuclear fuel to generate power.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday the Islamic Republic had launched industrial production of nuclear fuel at the Natanz center, about 1,000 miles from the Israeli border. The UN Security Council tightened sanctions against Iran March 24.

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