Yeltsin gives nuclear rebuff to Western guests

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After personally inviting the leaders of the seven leading industrialised nations to Moscow for a nuclear safety summit, Boris Yeltsin yesterday defied his guests by insisting that he would go on selling nuclear technology to Iran.

As the two-day meeting closed, Mr Yeltsin sent the Western leaders home with a sharp reminder that Russia would go on building a controversial nuclear power station in Iran, despite pleas to stop from the United States and others, who fear that it may be used for developing nuclear weapons. "We intend to go through with it," Mr Yeltsin told a press conference yesterday. "There's no problem with it at all. Any more questions?"

His rebuff to the West coincided with a carefully-timed report, circulated by the Interfax news agency, saying that Russia was in discussions with Iran over training up to 700 Iranians to let them operate the plant at Bushehr, 470 miles south of Tehran. Iran has said that the plant is only for peaceful purposes.

Russia's insistence on dealing with a state which the US regards as a sponsor of international terrorism sounded a sour note at the close of the summit. Earlier, Mr Yeltsin had also seized the opportunity to berate Western leaders about the expansion of Nato, reiterating Russia's objection to any possible move to station nuclear weapons on the territory of new members.

Even before it began, there was strong criticism of the summit from the anti-nuclear lobby, which claimed that it set out to do too little. Officials did, however, emerge flourishing evidence of some progress - including an agreement on co-operating among their intelligence services in efforts to prevent the smuggling of nuclear material.

Russia committed itself to signing the amended London Convention banning the dumping of radioactive waste at sea, and Ukraine agreed to shut the Chernobyl power station by the end of the century in return for Western aid.

The most heavily touted achievement was an agreement by the G7 - or G8 as Russia prefers to term it - to a ban on all nuclear tests by the end of the year. "What we mean by this is that no nuclear explosions are permitted, however small," said the Prime Minister, John Major, as he prepared to return to Britain. However, the effect of the agreement is likely to be limited, as China has yet to sign up to such a ban.

Although the summit was overshadowed by events in Lebanon and Russia's continuing war in Chechnya, Mr Major said he had a "very valuable visit" and spoke warmly of the "increasingly close contact" between world leaders.

How long Mr Yeltsin will remain in that category will be decided in June's hotly-contested presidential election, an event that also dominated the summit as the Russian President sought to present himself as a superpower leader for the benefit of domestic voters. Muffing his lines in the closing news conference did not help his cause.

There is little doubt that Britain supports his re-election bid, but Mr Major also had a half-hour meeting with the leader of Russia's Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, who heads the polls. Yesterday the Prime Minister said the meeting had been "extremely good and constructive". He had been "astonished" by some British reports that he had clashed with Mr Zyuganov.

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