The Bushehr nuclear power plant Russia is building for Iran will operate under the strict control of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, a senior Russian official was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Some Western states say the plant, which will be the first of its kind in Iran, could allow Tehran to obtain nuclear material and technology for use in a bomb-making program. Iran denies it is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

"After the fuel is delivered to Iran it will instantly come under the full and total control of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying.

Ivanov said the timetable for Russia to deliver the first consignment of nuclear fuel to Bushehr depends on resolving disputes with Iran about payment for the plant.

The completion date has been repeatedly pushed back, with Russia citing the cash row.

Russia says it has seen no evidence Tehran intends to build nuclear weapons and that it trusts Iranian assurances the plant will only be used to generate electricity.

The nuclear fuel would be monitored at all times by the IAEA from before it leaves Russia to its eventual return for reprocessing, said Ivanov in the Russian city of Angarsk.

"The IAEA will arrive in Russia to put a seal on the containers with fuel," said Ivanov, a former defense minister, who is considered a possible contender to run in Russian presidential elections next March.

"Saying total control, I mean using video cameras and other equipment. If cameras are off for even one minute, it will be a major violation of IAEA rules and norms," he was quoted by Tass as saying.

Some analysts say Russia is stalling on fuel delivery because it does not fully trust the Iranian government and fears an international backlash if it delivers nuclear fuel to Bushehr.

Under current Russian forecasts, the reactor at the plant could be launched in 2008. The nuclear fuel would have to arrive at the plant six months before the reactor could be started up, say Russian officials.