MOSCOW - Iran's intention to restart sensitive nuclear activities earlier frozen under a deal with the European Union is "legitimate" and will not alter Russia's nuclear cooperation with the Islamic state, a Russian nuclear official said Thursday.
"The fact that Iran has restarted conversion will not have an impact on nuclear cooperation between Russia and Iran," said the official, speaking on condition she not be named.
"This does not threaten international security because this uranium will be used for peaceful ends and under the strict IAEA control," the official said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"It is legitimate and legal," she said, adding that differences between Russia and the United States regarding Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Iran were "narrowing."
The official's comments came after a top Iranian nuclear official said the country was set to announce the resumption of "a noticeable part" of uranium conversion work, a precursor to uranium enrichment.
A European diplomat said in Tehran that such a move would automatically trigger referral of the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council.
"The Iranians are well aware of the consequences," the diplomat said. "If they do decide to resume conversion, or any other activity linked to the process of enrichment ... the matter will be sent to the United Nations Security Council."
In a newspaper interview published Thursday, the head of Russia's atomic energy agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, said Russia planned to make its first delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran at the end of the year or early next year.
Russia and Iran signed an agreement in February under which Iran agreed that all spent nuclear fuel from the civilian reactor being built at Bushehr under Russian direction would be repatriated directly to Russia for reprocessing.
"They have to start to fire it up in mid-2006," Rumyantsev said, referring to the Bushehr reactor. "The fuel has to be at the plant six months before that."
Under the accord between Russia and Iran signed in February, Russia is to send nearly 100 tonnes of fuel to Iran in several consignments under IAEA supervision. Tehran initially rejected the condition that it repatriate to Russia the spent nuclear fuel, but relented after two years of negotiations.
"All the necessary precautions have been made in line with international standards," Rumyantsev said.
The United States alleges that the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran is part of a cover for weapons development.
Washington is convinced that Iran is seeking to build atomic weapons - charges that Tehran denies - and has been trying to convince Moscow to halt its nuclear cooperation.
Three EU countries - Britain, France and Germany - have been leading efforts since last year to persuade Tehran diplomatically to drop any activities in the treatement of uranium that could result in acquisition of capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
But Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, a vice president and head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, told state television, that Iran intended to resume some activities that it had suspended under a deal with the EU countries.
"Based on the reviews and decisions which were made, we are going to restart a small part of the suspended activities," including some work at a uranium conversion facility near the central city of Isfahan.
The Isfahan facility is used to convert mined uranium "yellowcake" into uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) and then into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a feed gas for centrifuges that carry out the highly sensitive enrichment process.