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U.S. and Russia at odds over Iran

By CNN's Jill Dougherty

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Sources say the IAEA will issue a report alleging Iran's failure to meet a nuclear safeguards agreement (June 6)
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Russia's conflicting signals on Iran's nuclear program. (June 15)
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(CNN) -- The U.N. energy watchdog is to discuss a new report on Iran's nuclear program this week amid claims from some U.S. experts that Tehran could have a nuclear bomb developed by 2006.

Since 1995, Russia has been helping Iran to build a nuclear power plant near Bushehr -- a deal worth at least $800 million to Moscow.

Both countries say it is purely for civilian purposes, to provide light-water reactors for a power plant. But the U.S. says Iran could use that technology to build a bomb.

The disagreement has become a major stumbling block in U.S.-Russian relations. Now, there are signs coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow's position could be shifting.

At his recent summit in St. Petersburg with U.S. President George W. Bush, Putin said: "The positions of Russia and the United States on the issue are closer than they seem."

A senior Russian official told CNN: "There is no 'shift' in position...but Moscow is serious about nuclear non-proliferation."

Russia is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Georgy Mamdedov, Russian deputy foreign minister, said: "I can only assure you of one thing. We are for the strictest possible observance of the NPT Treaty.

"This is the highest priority for us. And this is higher than any material gain from any nuclear contract with any country."

But Russia's actions are raising questions.

Russia says it will not provide nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant until Iran signs a new agreement to return spent fuel to Russia -- which it says it is about to do.

And Moscow is pushing Tehran to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tighter control over its nuclear sites.

Yet, if Iran fails to do that, Moscow says the fuel deal could still go-ahead.

Ruslan Pukhov, a defense analyst said: "Russia kind of gave a positive sign that it shares the concern. It's a change in the attitude. But as far as the substance is concerned, it doesn't look like this."

Moscow, under pressure from the U.S., some observers say, could be deliberately keeping its position vague, and its options open.

The Russian foreign ministry says: "If the IAEA has questions for Iran...Russia will support the agency...and that will influence Russia's future plans on cooperating with Iran."

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