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Iran says its first atom plant to start in mid-2008

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s first atomic power plant will start operating in mid-2008, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Sunday, two days after the country received a second delivery of nuclear fuel from Russia.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks at a press briefing held with his counterpart Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain in this file photo from Dec. 26, 2007. Iran's first atomic power plant will start operating in mid-2008, Mottaki said on Sunday. REUTERS/Hamad I. Mohammed

Mottaki also told Iranian media that Tehran wants assurances that the United States will accept the results of the talks before holding a new meeting about ways to end violence in Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have held three rounds of talks since May on the security situation in Iraq, easing a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost three decades, but Mottaki’s remarks suggested Tehran was not satisfied with the outcome so far.

“These negotiations should have a clear agenda and reach clear results, different from before,” he said.

Iran and the United States are at odds over who is to blame for the bloodshed in Iraq and are also embroiled in a dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Washington suspects Iran wants to build a bomb, a charge the Islamic state denies.

In a move both Moscow and Washington said should convince Tehran to shut down its disputed uranium enrichment program, Russia delivered the first batch of about 80 tonnes of uranium fuel rods to Iran’s Bushehr plant on December 17.

A second delivery arrived 11 days later, Iranian media said.

The head of the Russian company building Bushehr, state-run Atomstroiexport, has been quoted as saying the facility would not be operational until at least the end of next year.

But Mottaki said: “Half of the capacity of the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be inaugurated next summer.”

Iran says it still needs to produce nuclear fuel domestically as it wants to build other power plants as part of a planned network with a capacity of 20,000 megawatt by 2020 to satisfy soaring electricity demands. It says it has started to construct a 360 MW plant in the southwestern Khuzestan province.

Enriched uranium can be used for making nuclear fuel and also, if refined much further, provide material for bombs.

Turning to Iraq, Mottaki said Iran had agreed in principle to hold a fourth meeting with U.S. officials. His ministry earlier this month suggested they may be held in early January.

But, Iran “has concerns about the way the other side would cooperate in these talks and also the commitment of the other side to the results,” Mottaki said.

Iran had conveyed this to the United States via Iraqi officials and was now waiting for a response.

“The negotiations should take place after the other side (makes a commitment) to accept the results of talks,” he said, without elaborating.

Washington accuses Iran of arming and training Shi’ite Muslim militias in Iraq. But U.S. officials have recently softened their rhetoric towards Iran, saying Tehran appears to have cut back its supply of roadside bombs to the militias.

Tehran blames the sectarian violence on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003 and have repeatedly called on Washington to pull out its troops.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Sami Aboudi