Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 8

In an apparent effort to mollify Washington, Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a pair of decrees earlier this month which broaden the list of export defense-related items and technologies subject to government control. The decrees modify several earlier decrees Yeltsin issued–not surprisingly–in August 1997 (Reuters, Russian agencies, January 5). The earlier measures launched a Kremlin effort to establish a workable regulatory structure for arms export controls. At the same time, the Kremlin also began exhorting various Russian security and military agencies to increase their vigilance in this area. Subsequent Western newspaper and intelligence reports have suggested that these efforts were more declaratory than real, however, and that clandestine Russian-Iranian cooperation continued.

Further, in an anything but clandestine fashion, Moscow has sought to expand on a US$800 million deal under which it is constructing a nuclear power plant at the Bushehr site in Iran. Having failed to stop that project, Washington had hoped at least to limit Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation to the original plans for the Bushehr plant. That effort met with a similar lack of success. On November 24 Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov signed a memorandum of understanding in Tehran which called for an acceleration of construction work at Bushehr. The memorandum also established a joint Russian-Iranian committee tasked with studying the feasibility of additional nuclear projects for Russia in Iran (AP, Russian agencies, Xinhua, November 24, 1998).

On January 10, in a follow-up to that memorandum, Adamov announced, first, that Moscow would send additional personnel to Iran to speed up work on the Bushehr facility and, second, that the two countries would forge ahead with negotiations on a new contract to build a second reactor at the Bushehr site (see the Monitor, January 11). U.S. authorities believe that work at the Bushehr nuclear project is helping Iran–directly or indirectly–in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Moreover, a report published by the “Wall Street Journal” on December 15 quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that two Russian research institutes are conducting secret negotiations to sell Iran a heavy-water research reactor and a uranium conversion facility. Russian nuclear scientists may also, according to the same report, be advising Iran on how to produce heavy water and nuclear-grade graphite (Wall Street Journal, December 15).