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Russia-Iran Nuclear Plans Will Expand

Energy: Moscow's draft of a 10-year program calls for building two more power plants for the Mideast nation despite U.S. opposition.

July 27, 2002|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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 Moscow's determination to build a plant in Ahvaz in addition to completing a station under construction in Bushehr, which the U.S. strongly opposes. The Russians also intend to build a second nuclear plant in Bushehr, a southern Iranian city about 240 miles southeast of Ahvaz.

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

The draft, published Friday by the government information department, also spells out cooperation in the fields of energy, industry, science, technology and trade, including plans for Caspian Sea exploration, a pipeline from Iran to India and an aviation joint venture making Russian Tu-204 and Tu-334 passenger jets.

Details in the 12-page document were agreed upon by Russian and Iranian officials. No deal on further reactors has yet been signed with Iran, but release of the plan came unexpectedly and will likely create alarm in Washington.

The U.S. is against all Russian nuclear sales to Iran, fearing that this could help Iran develop nuclear weapons. President Bush has termed the Middle Eastern nation part of an "axis of evil."

"We have seen these reports, and we are looking into them," said State Department spokesman Frederick Jones. "In the past, we have made clear to the highest levels of the Russian government that selling sensitive technology to Iran could prove a serious threat to the national security interests of the United States, its allies and friends in the region."

In congressional testimony this month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that the issue of nuclear aid to Iran would be at the top of his agenda when he and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meet with their Russian counterparts in September.

John Tedstrom, a National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration, said a Russian move to build a second nuclear facility "would play into the hands of the far right in the Bush administration who are already skeptical that Russia can be a partner in the war on terrorism" or other aspects of foreign policy.

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. The Russian president plans to visit Iran this year.

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, Moscow promised to limit its nuclear cooperation with Tehran to the construction of the 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. The CIA has 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 are internationally monitored. Moscow insists that Iran will return the spent fuel from the reactors to Russia, so the Iranians would not have the materials to make a nuclear weapon.

Russia's eagerness to build three more reactors at Bushehr is not unexpected, but its willingness to build a nuclear power plant at Ahvaz, involving two reactors, has not been made public before.

Quizzed by Interfax news service about the issue, Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarov confirmed that Russia would offer to build four reactors at Bushehr, but he refused to comment about the Ahvaz plan. The Atomic Energy Ministry could not be reached directly for comment.

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow recently cautioned Russia about countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea, which he said were actively seeking to acquire nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

"In this case, Russia has to avoid letting its desire for commercial gain end up hastening the day that these countries can pose a real weapons of mass destruction threat--a threat that could not only destabilize their own region but undermine the security of the entire world," Vershbow said Monday in a speech at the Moscow School of Political Studies.

In a paper on Iran's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Robert Einhorn, a senior advisor 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.

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