Russia Due to Postpone Talks in Tehran Over Nuclear Power Plant

Russian nuclear contractor blames payment problems; analysts point to international outcry.

Russia said Friday it was likely to postpone talks in Tehran over the construction of a nuclear power station, a project that has been caught up in an international standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Russia's state-owned nuclear contractor said persistent payment problems lay behind the expected postponement of talks in Iran at the end of May over construction at the Bushehr plant.

"The likelihood is that [Atomstroiexport head Sergei] Shmatko will not go," said an official from the contractor, which is building the plant, who did not want to be identified.

Russia says Iran has missed payments for construction work. Iranian officials deny that and say Moscow is delaying the project due to Western pressure to curb Iran's nuclear work.

The Russian official said talks with Iran on the plant were continuing.

"The customers have been sent a number of questions on our problematic issues," the offical said. "After we receive answers to these questions, a decision will be taken on the venue and date of the negotiations."

Moscow says the project to build Bushehr will not give Iran access to the nuclear fuel or technology which Western powers say it is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.

Analysts say Moscow is reluctant to complete the power station and deliver fuel because that it likely to cause an international outcry.

Western leaders say they suspect Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons. Iran says it is pursuing nuclear power exclusively to generate electricity.

Bush calls for stricter sanctions on IranU.S. President George W. Bush called Thursday for stricter sanctions on Iran in light of its failure to cease enriching uranium, despite a United Nations ultimatum.

Iran has ignored the deadline set under UN Resolution 1747 to cease enriching uranium, the International Atomic Energy Association said as the deadline expired Thursday. IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei said that within three to eight years, Iran would have enriched uranium in sufficient quantities to produce a nuclear weapon.

Bush said Thursday the leaders of China and Russia "have got to understand" that they and the world will suffer if Iran is allowed to join the roster of nuclear-armed nations.

The Western members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, have pushed for tough penalties against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel suitable to generate power or the weapons-grade material for nuclear warheads. But opposition from Russia and China has led the Security Council to settle for watered-down measures.

Bush said Iran's defiance means it is time to go further.

"The world has spoken and said, `You know, no nuclear weapons programs.' And yet they're constantly ignoring the demands," he told reporters during a Rose Garden news conference. "My view is that we need to strengthen our sanction regime."

UN sources say senior officials from Britain, France, the U.S. and Germany will hold secret talks in two weeks to discuss tighter restrictions on Iran, incuding trade sanctions. The same four states drafted the previous resolution which Iran has ignored. France is expected to take a tougher stance on Iran following the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Diplomatic sources in New York say that the new proposal drafted by the four will likely include a trade embargo on Iran regarding oil and weapons deals, which permanent Security Council members China and Russia are not expected to endorse.