The Clinton administration announced on February 23 its opposition to a new plan whereby Russia will undertake an expanded role in the construction of Iran’s controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant. The new plans were announced by Russian Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov on February 18. According to Mikhailov, construction work on the Bushehr plant is some twenty months behind schedule. The reason for the delay: Iran has been unable to complete its portion of the project, which included the reactor room and some auxiliary construction. Mikhailov said that Moscow would now take over construction of the plant entirely. He pledged to have the project completed in the next thirty months. (UPI, Itar-Tass, February 18; The Washington Post, February 22; AP, February 23)
The United States has repeatedly objected to Moscow’s role in the $800 million project, arguing that construction of the nuclear power plant could advance Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program. Both Russian and Iranian leaders have dismissed that argument. Mikhailov on February 18 repeated Moscow’s characterization of the plant as a purely commercial venture, and added that Iran "does not have the technology to build nuclear weapons."
Construction work on the Bushehr plant was started by the German company Siemens in 1979. Since Russia took over the project in 1995, it has remained a point of friction between Washington and Moscow. In that regard, the project became an early example of Moscow’s willingness to defy the United States. In the eyes of Russian leaders, it remains a symbol of Moscow’s determination to follow an independent foreign policy. The project also contributed to a warming in Iranian-Russian relations that has continued to the present day. That fact is likely to be highlighted during a three-day visit to Moscow by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi that began last night.
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