The state-run Russian company building Iran's first nuclear power plant said Monday that the reactor's launch will be postponed because of Iranian payment delays.
Russian media reports, meanwhile, indicated that the Kremlin was growing tired of Iran's nuclear defiance in the face of U.N. Security Council sanctions, with three agencies citing an unidentified official warning Iran to cooperate and stop playing "anti-American games."
Russia, which has remained close to Iran even as the Islamic republic defied international demands to stop enriching uranium and answer questions about its nuclear program, has accused Iran of paying only a fraction of the $25 million monthly payments for construction work at the Bushehr reactor in recent months. Officials have warned that the funding delays would push back both the launch - originally planned for September - and the delivery of the uranium fuel needed to power the reactor.
"It will be impossible to launch the reactor in September, and there can be no talk about supplying fuel this month," Atomstroiexport said in a statement that followed the collapse of bilateral talks last week on the funding dispute. It accused the Iranians of failing to give a written obligation to resume funding for the project.
Iran has urged Russia to speed up the fuel delivery, but Russian officials said it would only be delivered six months before the plant's launch.
Three-day talks last week between Atomstroiexport officials and an Iranian delegation led by Mohammed Saeedi, the vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, ended in failure.
Saeedi denied any payment delays, but said that Iran was ready to provide more funds. Under pressure from Russia, the U.N. Security Council removed a reference to Bushehr from sanctions against Iran over its atomic program. The Kremlin then supported limited sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
The Security Council is debating new sanctions against Iran but the five veto-wielding permanent members - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France - and Germany failed to agree in a meeting late Sunday.
In a surprise announcement Sunday, the Iranian government said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to put his country's case for a nuclear program before the Security Council.
The sanctions imposed in December ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
The council warned it would adopt further nonmilitary sanctions if Iran refused to comply.
Iran not only refused to suspend its enrichment program but expanded it. So the six key nations that have been trying to rein in Iran's nuclear program started discussing possible new sanctions including a travel ban, an arms embargo, trade restrictions and an expanded list of people and companies subject to an asset freeze.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said the parties in the six-way talks are proceeding from "common goals ... in ensuring nuclear non-proliferation," but he added that a new U.N. Security Council resolution must not hurt the Iranian people, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
In a signal that Russia could be close to yielding to Western push for stronger sanctions, Russian news agencies reported Monday that the country's support for Iran could end if it continues to ignore international demands to freeze enrichment.
ITAR-Tass, Interfax and RIA-Novosti all carried identical remarks by an unidentified official, who warned that Iran must answer the U.N. nuclear watchdog's queries about its nuclear program, which the United States and others say is aimed at building an atomic bomb.
Russia's leadership often uses remarks by anonymous sources to convey its position on sensitive issues.
The source said that Iran's continued defiance has damaged Russia's image and that Russia would not "play anti-American games" with Iran.
Iran sternly urged Russia Sunday to deliver the fuel this month.