Russia to Deepen Nuclear Cooperation with Iran

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Moscow ( - International consensus on sanctions against Iran remains elusive, but Russia insisted Monday it would deepen economic ties, including nuclear cooperation, with Tehran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday the new draft of a U.N. Security Council resolution may involve sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, but nevertheless, it would not affect a $1-billion Russian project to build a nuclear reactor for Iran at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf.

"The new draft [resolution] limits supplies for uranium enrichment, fuel reprocessing, and technology transfer to Iran," but there was "no question of any restrictions on this project," Lavrov said in televised remarks here.

An earlier draft by Britain, France and Germany envisaged possible sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, including a ban on missile and nuclear technologies sales, a freeze on some bank accounts, and visa restrictions on Iranian nuclear officials. The draft did not seek to ban the Bushehr reactor, but would have restricted fuel supplies to the plant.

Russia and China found the draft far too strong, however, and the European nations drafted new, weaker proposals, with no provisions concerning the Bushehr project.

Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), traveled to Tehran this week to reinforce Moscow's determination to develop nuclear ties with Iran, despite Western concerns.

"Russia sees no political obstacles to launching the Bushehr nuclear power plant as scheduled," Kiriyenko said. "Russia will complete the nuclear power plant as fast as it is technically possible."

He said the plant would go onstream by the end of 2007. It was originally due to reach that stage this year.

Kiriyenko, who held talks with Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, reiterated Russia's stance that Iran has the right to develop civilian nuclear energy.

The U.S. and its European allies suspect that Tehran's nuclear program provides a cover for an effort to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as telling the Russian visitor that Iran remained resolved to complete the full nuclear fuel cycle.

But he added that Iran had not ruled out an earlier Russian proposal to establish a joint uranium enrichment venture -- a move Moscow offered in a bid to defuse the international crisis over Iran's program.

Russia has been keen to present itself as a mediator in the dispute between Iran and the West, although Iran's refusal to suspend domestic uranium enrichment has held up any progress on the Russian joint venture proposal.

Kiriyenko's trip to Tehran coincided with the opening of a controversial conference there questioning the Holocaust, an event attended by Mottaki, among others.

In an apparent bid to defuse criticism of the decision to visit Iran at such a time, Russia's state-run RTR television channel broadcast a report Monday critical of the Holocaust conference, and featuring interviews with Holocaust survivors now living in Israel.

Apart from the controversial civilian nuclear cooperation, Russia maintains significant economic and energy interests in Iran.

Russian Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Ivan Matyorov, also visiting the Islamic republic, spoke in Tehran Monday about the possibility of cooperating in developing new oil deposits.

Russian gas giant Gazprom is already developing what is believed to be the world's largest gas field, the offshore South Pars field.

To be developed in up to 30 phases over 25 years, South Pars is estimated to contain around seven percent of the world's proven reserves.

Matyorov said Iranians viewed Gazprom as a "world leader" and hoped to cooperate with the Russian entity in third countries too, including Venezuela and Bolivia.

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