A Russian official on Thursday criticized "regrettable and unpleasant" comments by the head of NASA about Russia's role in building a new International Space Station.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief Daniel Goldin told Congress on Wednesday he had made a mistake in letting Russia build the service module for the station, where the astronauts would live.The project, costing more than $20 billion, is running well behind schedule.

"What our colleague said is extremely regrettable and unpleasant," said Alexei Krasnov, the Russia Space Agency's deputy head of international cooperation.

"We have found possible solutions to joint technical and financial problems to move the program forward," he said.

The International Space Station (ISS) brings together the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe in an ambitious program to keep humans permanently orbiting in space.

A Russian official said last week that the launch of the new station's first section would be put back from June until the autumn because of Russian delays in completing the service module.

The service module is now set to be launched in the spring of 1999, one year behind schedule.

Goldin told the House of Representatives Science Committee that he wished, with hindsight, that the United States had built it. "We did not, and I accept responsibility and accountability for that."

Economic turmoil in Russia as it dismantles Soviet central planning has left its space agency underfunded. Goldin said it had received only $8 million of $340 million it needs this year from the government for its ISS commitments.

But Krasnov said Moscow would overcome its financial woes and become a valuable player in the ISS, which is expected to stay in orbit for decades.

"Within a year or even less, three modules will be in orbit, and then few will recall these problems," he said.

"Such programs are extraordinarily complex. Even with the total financing which we enjoyed during the Soviet Union . . . we nonetheless were able to complete the Mir space station only in its 10th year of existence."

Mir, which was launched in 1986, was assembled gradually, with various modules being sent up one by one. The new space station will also be built in stages.

In his congressional statement, Goldin said Russian participation was still clearly a net gain for the United States.

"Our confidence in Russian technical capability remains unshaken," he said. "The issue is uncertainty in Russian government funding for ISS."