Russian Offer Won't Stop Iranian Nuclear Arms: But Gore Sees Breakthrough on Moscow Plutonium

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Russia has offered to create a joint U.S.-Russian control system for the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran, but U.S. experts said yesterday the offer would do nothing to prevent Tehran from developing its own nuclear weapons.

The offer was made Sunday by Russian Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov to his U.S. counterpart, Energy Secretary Federico Pena, who was visiting Moscow with Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. Gore met with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow yesterday in the ninth round of high-powered talks of their joint Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission (GCC), held every six months, and told reporters afterwards their meeting focused on Iran's nuclear program.

Mr. Gore said he hoped today to announce a major breakthrough with Russia on plutonium production for nuclear weapons in which Russia may agree to scrap large amounts of its own plutonium reserves. But that agreement would not affect Iran's Bushehr project.

Under an $800 million contract, hundreds of Russian technicians are helping Iran build the Bushehr reactor, which will be capable of producing all forms of plutonium isotopes, including those best suited to make nuclear weapons, American experts say.

"The Bushehr reactor is capable of making the most useful plutonium isotopes to make nuclear weapons," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington.

"Any agreement to monitor Bushehr's operation could not prevent or monitor the clandestine contacts between hundreds of Russian nuclear technicians and their Iranian counterparts," Mr. Milhollin said.

"Nor could it prevent the Iranians doing what they want with the plutonium isotopes produced as spent fuel from the operation of the reactor," he said.

Some congressional sources said Sunday's offer by Mr. Mikhailov, a leading hawk in selling nuclear technology to Iran, appeared to be a ploy by Moscow to head off pressure from Congress to impose sanctions on the Russian companies involved in the Bushehr project. …