As Russia welcomed Iran’s top nuclear official on September 12, Moscow is sending signals that the Kremlin remains keen to strengthen its nuclear partnership with Tehran.
Iranian Vice-President Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, who is also head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was granted a warm welcome in Moscow. Aqazadeh met the head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Alexander Rumyantsev, as well as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Igor Ivanov, head of Russia’s Security Council.
While Aqazadeh went to Moscow for talks on nuclear power, Russian officials also highlighted economic interests in its ties with Iran. Lavrov said that Moscow is keen to expand cooperation and relations with Tehran, noting, “We have many joint projects that allow us to increase the volume of bilateral trade” (RIA-Novosti, September 12).
Aqazadeh reportedly urged Moscow to complete the Bushehr atomic power plant on schedule and sought to secure timely shipments of fuel to the power plant. He reiterated Tehran’s resolve to continue cooperation with Russia as an important and strategic country at the international level as well as major trade partner of Iran. Aqazadeh also said the new government in Iran attaches special importance to cooperation and relations with Russia (IRNA, September 13).
Rumyantsev described Tehran as Moscow’s strategic ally and said Russia prioritizes relations with Iran in the energy sector, notably in nuclear energy. Despite ongoing technical problems, the Bushehr power plant will come on stream on schedule, and he assured that fuel would be shipped, (IRNA, September 13). Both sides confirmed their wish to launch the Bushehr nuclear power plant before the end of 2006.
Russian experts are currently in the final stages of construction of the first power unit at Bushehr. The sides plan to start operation of the first power unit in the beginning of 2006 and fully commission the plant by the end of next year (RIA-Novosti, September 12).
Officials on both sides see significant potential in expanding nuclear cooperation. Notably, Aqazadeh suggested that Russia could become a partner in lucrative projects to build 20 nuclear power stations in Iran with a total capacity of 20,000 megawatts.
In February 2005, Rumyantsev and Aqazadeh signed a nuclear fuel supply agreement at the Bushehr nuclear plant. Under the deal Iran has to return spent nuclear fuel from the reactor. Rumyantsev said earlier that Russia would deliver about 100,000 metric tons of nuclear fuel to Iran under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late 2005 or early 2006.
However, Russian officials have been keen to avoid domestic environmental concerns over international nuclear deals. Russia will not be importing spent nuclear fuel and the country is not going to be turned into global dumping site for nuclear waste, Rumyantsev insisted. However, he did concede that Russia would take deliveries of spent nuclear fuel from Russian-built nuclear power plants, including Bushehr (RIA-Novosti, September 14).
Moscow, which insisted on Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear technologies, has urged Tehran to halt uranium conversion and continue cooperation with the IAEA. Aqazadeh, however, said his country would not make concessions on nuclear fuel. “This matter has already become a national issue that concerns the whole of Iranian society, and I can assure you no Iranian government will agree to conclude a bargain deal on this issue,” Aqazadeh said. He also told journalists in Moscow there were no technical or legal reasons for referring Iran’s nuclear issue to the UN Security Council (Interfax, September 12).
Moscow has insisted that Russia’s cooperation with Iran is conditional on the transparency of Tehran’s policies, its respect of IAEA decisions, and its renunciation of any nuclear military program. Moreover, the Kremlin remains keen to strengthen its partnership with Tehran. The official Voice of Russia radio commented that Moscow was understood to oppose any Security Council resolution on Iran, even using its veto right if necessary (Voice of Russia, September 13).
Some Russian politicians sound supportive regarding Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has a legitimate right to use nuclear power stations, said Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy head of the security committee of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament (IRNA, September 13).
Russia voiced strong disagreements with U.S. suggestions that Iran was using its nuclear energy program as a cover to produce weapons of mass destruction. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that his country would continue its nuclear cooperation with Iran after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election last June. Putin has accepted an invitation to visit Tehran later this year.
On the other hand, Russia appears to be keen to prevent a confrontation between Tehran and the West, as Moscow would include Iran into new Eurasian groupings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a potential vehicle to challenge the West in Central Eurasia.