U.S. Irked by Potential Growth in Russian Nuclear Aid to Iran

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RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER Mikhail Kasyanov signed a draft document July 26 that includes plans to build five nuclear reactors in Iran in addition to the reactor currently under construction near the Iranian city of Bushehr, according to U.S. and Russian sources. The document created friction between Moscow and Washington, which has opposed Russian nuclear assistance to Iran.

The draft document was released shortly before Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, arrived in Moscow for a series of meetings with Russian officials concerning nonproliferation issues. Abraham and Bolton expressed opposition to the proposal to expand nuclear cooperation at a July 31 meeting, arguing that building the reactors might help Iran develop nuclear weapons, according to a Bush administration official. "We will continue to urge the Russian government to take a clear position against any plan to build additional nuclear reactors in Iran," the official said.

The reactors proposal was particularly controversial because of its timing and approval by high-level government officials. The announcement "that Russia intended to pursue additional nuclear cooperation with Iran was inconsistent with the assurance that Putin gave Bush," an administration official said August 15, referring to a pledge to combat proliferation that the U.S. and Russian presidents made at the G-8 summit in June.

However, presidents Bush and Putin had acknowledged their disagreement about Russian nuclear aid to Iran at the May 24 signing ceremony for the new U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty. Putin stated during May meetings with Bush that Russia would continue with the Bushehr project, but no plans for additional reactors were discussed. (See ACT, June 2002).

Russian officials downplayed the proposal for additional reactors after meeting with Bolton and Abraham. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alexander Yakovenko stated July 31 that "the prospects of cooperation with Iran in the field of peaceful uses of the atom, [speak] only of the available potentialities, the realization of which depends on many factors, including, of course, political."

The First Deputy Atomic Energy Minister, Lev Ryabev, said August 13 that "no concrete agreements have been achieved.... No contracts have been signed," according to the Russian news agency Interfax. "I would not like to say that we will build only one reactor. But I also would not like to say that we will certainly build six or any other number of reactors, since any such statements would be premature," he added. …