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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 19, October 1997

Russia Seeks to Allay Israel, US on Alleged Iran Cooperation

There have been continuing US and Israeli suggestions that Russia is supporting Iran's reported missile and nuclear weapons programmes, or is at least not doing enough to prevent Russian companies providing support. Russia has responded, in addition to general denials and reassurances, by detailing its determined efforts to prevent any diversion of potentially helpful technology and equipment.

The importance of comprehensive non-cooperation with Iran was stressed in late September by Vice-President Al Gore, during meetings in Moscow with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the Gore-Chernomyrdin Committee on Economic and Technical Cooperation (see last issue). On 23 September, Gore stated:

"We've agreed to continue to share information and to work together closely to prevent the possibility of nuclear missile technology reaching Iran or any other rogue State... I can tell you there is no doubt whatsoever that Russia also takes this issue very seriously... Russia has a slightly different perspective but I think that the differences have narrowed considerably..."

During Gore's visit to Russia, Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov reportedly proposed joint US-Russia monitoring of the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran, currently being constructed with Russian assistance. Mikhailov told Itar-Tass on 21 September:

"I proposed to the American side that we should work out a joint system of controlling the plant, to eliminate any doubt that there could be anything else happening there other than the changing of nuclear fuel and the use of the reactors..."

On 23 September, Gore intimated that the proposal did not go far enough: "We had extensive discussions about the Bushehr reactor site, and joint monitoring is the least of our concerns."

On 24 September, Iran made clear its opposition to the proposal. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahmoud Mohammadi stated:

"The Bushehr nuclear power plant will be under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency...and Iran absolutely believes no other authority has the competence to monitor the site and will not allow it..."

On 13 October, US State Department spokesperson made clear that the US was not concerned so much with Russian policy as Russia's ability to prevent leakage and diversion of missile and nuclear-related materials:

"Russia has made clear that its policy is not to assist Iran's missile programme. We have now established a mechanism to pursue this with the Russians and are working hard to resolve the problem. ... What we've been doing is not focusing on Russian government policy, but focusing on ensuring that there are no entities in Russia that are acting inconsistently with that policy..."

In early October, Russia revealed details of its successes in preventing leakage and diversion. On 3 October, Itar-Tass quoted an unnamed, senior official from the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying the service "had detected separate cases of cooperation with Iran as a result of which Russian deliveries could have conflicted with international treaties on missile technology transfers. But they were all revealed and prevented."

Russia was responding to Israeli as well as US criticism. Briefing reporters in Tel Aviv on 21 September, Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Israel now anticipated that Iran was within 18 months of producing a major new missile - the liquid-fuel Shihab-3, with a range of 810 miles and a payload of 1,550 pounds. The development of the missile, the official stated, was made possible largely through the intense involvement of two Russian organizations - the Polyus Research Institute in Moscow, and a company called Kutznetzov, in Samara. The officials further maintained that Iran is also developing a long-range Shihab-4 missile, whose design they said was based on Russia's SS-4 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The same day, a spokesperson for Russia's Space Agency, Anatoly Tkachev, stated: "These allegations are absolutely unfounded."

In Tehran on 10 October, Iran's former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani, gave details of Iran's current missile capability. Speaking during a sermon broadcast on Iranian television, Rafsanjani said:

"Our long-range anti-aircraft missile...can reach its target at a distance 156 miles. Please pay attention to the figure of 250 kilometres, 156 miles... The longest range that we could hit during the Iran-Iraq war was 18 miles or something around that... We are now capable of defending and protecting our Persian Gulf space from behind the Zagros mountain range [in western Iran]. That is a great defence capability..."

Reports: Iran developing new missile, Associated Press, 21 September; Russia urges US to help monitor Iran atom site, Reuters, 21 September; Gore tackles Moscow on religion, oil, Iran, Reuters, 23 September; Iran rejects US monitoring its atomic plant, Reuters, 24 September; Israel says Russia is aiding Iran, Associated Press, 30 September; US money supports Iran's nuclear program, Washington Times, 2 October; Russia blocks Iran on missiles, Associated Press, 2 October; Russia says thwarted missile tech transfer to Iran, Reuters, 3 October; Russia says it thwarted attempt by Iran to get missile technology, Washington Post, 3 October; State Department Briefing, 10 October; Iran claims improved missile ability, Associated Press, 10 October; Russia responsive to US concerns over Iran, Reuters, 13 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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