Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 23

Russia will, over the next several years, reportedly train several hundred Iranians to operate the controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant which Russia is building for Iran. According to Russian news sources, the first group of these specialists is scheduled to arrive at the Novovoronezh nuclear plant in southern Russia, where the training will take place, early in March. The program is part of the U.S.$800 million construction deal under which Russia is building the 1,000-megawatt light-water nuclear reactor in southern Iran (AP, February 2).

The United States–together with Israel–has vigorously opposed the Bushehr project on the grounds that it could further Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons. U.S. concerns in this area, and over the alleged leakage of Russian missile technology to Iran, have been a major point of friction in Russian-U.S. relations. The Clinton administration’s belief that Moscow has slackened its nonproliferation efforts in these areas led Washington to level new sanctions last month against three Russian institutes believed to be aiding Iranian missile and nuclear weapons development efforts. The move provoked a furious response from Moscow, which has long criticized what it says is American meddling in legitimate Russian-Iranian cooperation efforts.

The February 1 report came as Russian media speculates that Moscow may be on the verge of renouncing–or at least looking for ways around–an informal 1995 agreement with the United States which limits Russian arms exports to Iran. The agreement–signed by U.S. Vice President Al Gore and then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin–stipulated that Moscow could continue to fulfill existing arms contracts with Iran. It required, however, that Russia conclude such contracts by the end of 1999 and forgo signing any new arms deals after that.

According to “Segodnya” military correspondent Pavel Felgengauer, however, an increasingly powerful pro-Iranian faction within Russia’s political and industrial elite is lobbying hard for Moscow to resume military contacts with Iran after the 1999 deadline date. Felgengauer quotes rumors that Russian President Boris Yeltsin recently signed a directive ordering the government to find ways to continue military-technical cooperation with Iran without violating the U.S.-Russian agreement. Another newspaper suggests that the Kremlin intends soon to raise the issue of revising the 1995 agreement in talks with U.S. government officials.

The Russian reports suggest that the efforts of the country’s pro-Iranian lobby are being abetted by mounting tensions between Moscow and Washington over Kosovo, Iraq, and a host of other issues. The increasingly acrimonious battle between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s military and nuclear contacts with Iran have reportedly further strengthened the pro-Iranian lobby (Russian news agencies, January 25; Segodnya, January 26; Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 27).