Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 233

The United States yesterday bluntly warned Moscow that continued cooperation with Iran could lead to U.S. sanctions against Russian nuclear energy entities and might also jeopardize lucrative space launch contracts. The warning, announced by State Department spokesman James Rubin, came a week after a U.S. delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott held high-level consultations in Moscow. Those talks centered on Washington’s concerns over continuing Russian-Iranian cooperation in the fields of nuclear energy, missile development and germ warfare research. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had highlighted the same issues during talks in Brussels on December 9 with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (see the Monitor, December 10, 14).

Yesterday’s State Department announcement also followed a detailed and hard-hitting December 15 report published by the “Wall Street Journal.” The article said that at least two Russian nuclear research institutes are negotiating the sale to Tehran of a 40-megawatt heavy-water research reactor and a uranium-conversion facility. It also said that Russian scientists are already advising Iran secretly on how to produce heavy water and nuclear-grade graphite. Washington reportedly fears that this clandestine Iranian-Russian nuclear cooperation could aid long-term Iranian efforts to manufacture plutonium or highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb (Wall Street Journal, December 15).

In his remarks yesterday, Rubin suggested that Moscow has reneged on an earlier pledge that it would limit nuclear cooperation with Tehran to the US$800 Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry is overseeing the Bushehr project, and Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov announced last month during a visit to Iran that the two countries were negotiating additional nuclear projects. Rubin said that Washington is convinced Iran is using the Bushehr project “as a cover for acquiring sensitive Russian nuclear technology.” He also said that the Clinton administration is prepared to impose administrative sanctions on Russian “nuclear entities” believed to be involved in such cooperation projects with Iran (Reuters, AP, December 16).

This past summer Washington imposed similar sanctions on Russian defense concerns–including the state space agency Glavkosmos–judged to be contributing to Iranian ballistic missile development efforts (see the Monitor, July 30). But the United States apparently remains dissatisfied with the results of that punitive action. Rubin suggested that the United States is now thinking of cutting back the number of satellites launched by Russia for U.S. firms. The Russian Space Agency, which has faced extreme budget shortfalls, launched some eighteen of these satellites last year–at approximately US$60-$100 million each. Rubin said that the United States was now intent on presenting Moscow with a clear “trade-off” in this area. Moscow would have to decide, he said, whether “doing business with Iran [is] worth losing billions of dollars in business from the U.S. aerospace industry” (AP, Reuters, December 16).