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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

Russia in Preliminary Agreement To Build Two More Reactors in Iran

On 5 March, it was reported that Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Bulgak, speaking in Tehran, had announced that Russia had agreed in principle to build two further nuclear reactors at the Bushehr complex in Iran. Russia is currently committed - under the terms of a contract reportedly worth $850 million - to completing the construction of a 1,000 megawatt plant at the coastal site.

The next day, Georgy Kaurov, a spokesperson for Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry, pressed for details on the new reactors, would only state: "It will be five years down the line, what can we say about it now? ... A final deal on the construction of the next blocs in Iran will come after we have sorted out our relations with Iran on the first reactor at Bushehr..."

Kaurov went on to insist that the reactor posed no proliferation threat whatsoever, not least because there was no evidence that Iran had any intention of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons: "There's no basis for the United States' position. If they came up with some basis to reproach Iran for having a military nuclear programme that would be one thing, but there has been nothing like that."

Also speaking on 6 March, a spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hans-Friedrich Meyer, told Reuters that the Agency currently had no reason to be worried about the Bushehr project: "Iran is a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has a full-scope safeguards agreement with the IAEA in force and there is no sign whatsoever that the IAEA will not inspect the exclusively peaceful use of the Bushehr nuclear power plant when it comes into operation..."

On 8 March, Israel's Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted to the news of the possible additional reactors with consternation:

"The whole world is worried about Saddam Hussein, even as the country adjacent to Iraq, Iran, is developing biological and chemical weapons to be fired at targets in Israel, and nobody is doing anything about this, beyond ourselves... [The Russians] have all kinds of explanations for these reactors. I am not convinced that it satisfies us..."

On 4 March, the eve of the announcement in Tehran, Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky met Russian Foreign Minister Primakov in Moscow to discuss the issue of support for Iran. Speaking after the meeting, Sharansky told reporters: "I have no reason to believe the Russian Government is knowingly helping Iran acquire weapons technology."

On 9 March, the New York Times reported that the Clinton Administration was prepared to offer Russia help, in the form of commercial joint ventures, in expanding its potentially lucrative satellite-launching business. According to the Times, the offer would be linked to Russia taking measures to prevent any missile-related exports to Iran. An unnamed US official sought to put the suggestion into context, telling reporters (9 March):

"I would not say that it's a question of offering inducements to the Russian Government... Both the United States' and Russian Governments agree that we need to work more closely together on WMD issues as they relate to Iran. By the same token, it is in our mutual interest to cooperate more fully on commercial space opportunities."

On 9 March, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican - Missouri) announced that he was scheduling a vote before the Easter recess (beginning 4 April) on legislation designed to impose sanctions on foreign companies identified as assisting Iran to develop or acquire ballistic missiles. According to a statement issued by Lott's office, Russian 'entities' were the prime concern and target of the legislation:

"In the continued absence of tangible and verifiable progress in ceasing the cooperation of Russian entities with Iran's determined drive to acquire ballistic missile technology, the Senate will consider the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act before the Easter recess..."

Reports: Sharansky in Russia for Iran talks, United Press International, 1 March; Russia quiets Israeli fears on Iran, United Press International, 4 March; Iran, Russia further nuclear cooperation, Reuters, 6 March; Russia, Iran agree on new nuclear reactors, Reuters, 6 March; Report - Netanyahu angry at Russia, Associated Press, 8 March; US Senate to vote on Iran missile bill by Easter, Reuters, 8 March; Russian satellite business linked to Iran - NYT, Reuters, 9 March; US tries to lure Russia from Iran dealings, Reuters, 9 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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