Atul Aneja

DUBAI: The head of Russia's National Security Council, Igor Ivanov, has concluded a carefully calibrated visit to Iran, where he promised that a Moscow-aided civilian nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr would be commissioned by the year-end.

He also endorsed a proposal that could help ease Tehran's growing tensions with the West. According to the Russian timetable, fuel would be shipped to Bushehr by March 2007.

The facility would be launched in September, while generation of electricity would begin in November. The Russian official's visit was part of Moscow's initiative to deepen its ties with West Asia across the region's Sunni-Shia sectarian divide.

On February 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin would begin visiting the region, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. Mr. Putin would visit countries which are Sunni-dominated unlike Iran where Shias form the majority.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said during his talks with Mr. Ivanov that Tehran and Moscow should evolve a "defined framework" for addressing "regional issues."

Iranian officials have said that the two countries can work together closely in West Asia, Central Asia and the Caucuses. Mr. Ivanov discussed the situation in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan with his interlocutors during his stay.

Iran has proposed that Tehran and Moscow should become lead players in establishing a natural gas cartel on the lines of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.