MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that he is convinced Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and that he plans to visit Iran.
Putin also said Russia would continue its nuclear cooperation with Tehran. Moscow has helped Iran build a nuclear reactor, a project that has been heavily criticized by the United States, which fears it could be used to help Tehran develop nuclear weapons.
“The latest steps by Iran convinced us that Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons and we will continue to develop relations in all spheres, including the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Putin said at a meeting with Iranian National Security Council chief Hasan Rohani.
“We hope that Iran will strictly adhere to all international agreements, in relation to Russia and the international community,” Putin said, adding that he had accepted an invitation by Iran’s leadership for him to visit the country.
Russian news agencies said no date has been set.
Russia’s nuclear chief is expected in Iran next week to sign a protocol on returning spent nuclear fuel to Russia, the only remaining obstacle to the launch of the Russian-built reactor. If the signing goes ahead as planned on Feb. 26, it would pave the way for the deliveries of Russian nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor, which is set to begin operating in early 2006.
The protocol is aimed at reducing concerns that Iran could reprocess spent nuclear fuel from the $800 million Bushehr reactor to extract plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons. Moscow says that having Iran ship spent nuclear fuel back to Russia, along with international monitoring, will make any such project impossible.
Rohani acknowledged that the international community has long expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear program, “but now, no one can doubt that Iran’s nuclear program has a peaceful character.”
Washington, however, continues to accuse Tehran of having a secret nuclear weapons program.
Russia supports European diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to permanently abandon its uranium enrichment program. Iran has warned it will resume all nuclear activities it has suspended if talks don’t make progress by mid-March.