Russia plans more nuclear aid to Iran

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Despite opposition from the United States, Russia is seeking to increase cooperation with Iran, releasing plans Friday to build a new nuclear power plant in the western part of that country.

A draft of a 10-year program of cooperation with Iran, which was approved by the Russian government, spelled out Russia's determination to build a nuclear plant at Ahvaz and a second plant at Bushehr.

The plan calls for the Russians to supply six nuclear reactors, four at Bushehr and two at Ahvaz.

Details in the 12-page document were agreed upon by Russian and Iranian officials. Release of the plan came unexpectedly and will likely create alarm in Washington.

The United States is against all Russian nuclear sales to Iran, a nation President Bush has termed part of an "axis of evil," fearing this could help Iran develop nuclear weapons.

Russia's nuclear sales to Iran remain one of the sorest points in a relationship with Washington that has improved sharply since President Vladimir V. Putin backed the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.

Under Putin, Russia has insisted on its right to export civilian nuclear technology to Iran.

U.S. officials are concerned that Russia is offering to help Iran in other sensitive areas that could enable it to develop nuclear weapons.

Release of the plan came a day after Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Dmitriyev, affirmed that Russia would sell conventional defensive weapons to Iran.

In 1995, Russia promised to limit its nuclear co-operation with Iran to the construction of the $800 million Bushehr plant, but U.S. officials are concerned that Russia is offering to help Iran in other sensitive areas that could enable it to develop nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, the CIA accused Russia of helping Iran develop long-range ballistic missiles.

Russia has repeatedly denied these charges, arguing that nothing it was doing would help Iran develop a nuclear bomb, and that Iran's nuclear energy projects were internationally monitored. Russia insists that Iran will send the spent fuel from the reactors back to Russia, meaning the Iranians would not have the materials to make a nuclear weapon.

(Optional add end) Russia's eagerness to build another three reactors at Bushehr is not unexpected, but its willingness to build another nuclear power plant at Ahvaz, entailing two reactors, has not been made public before.

In a paper on Iran's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, warned recently that Iran was working to establish a nuclear weapons program invulnerable to international pressure or supply problems.

"Within the next few years Iran could reach the point of no return, a point after which it could succeed in achieving nuclear and long-range missile capabilities without further foreign assistance," he argued in the paper, which was written jointly with Gary Samore, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Einhorn said the United States was most concerned about the transfer of sensitive fuel cycle technologies to Iran. The United States is alarmed that these technologies, which include light water research reactors, fuel fabrication facilities and a uranium enrichment centrifuge plant, could enable Iran to produce highly enriched uranium.

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