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Russia presses Iran over nuclear fuel

May 27, 2003

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
May 27 2003

Russia has responded to US pressure by telling Iran it will not supply nuclear fuel for the reactor it is constructing unless the Islamic republic agrees to intrusive inspections of all its nuclear facilities, say US and European officials.

Moscow’s move was seen in Washington as a big step in the Bush administration’s efforts to hinder Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Russia had resisted US pressure to stop construction of the Bushehr plant.

The policy change was also seen in the context of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to ensure a harmonious summit with George W. Bush in St Petersburg on Sunday, following their differences over the Iraq war.

Western officials say Russia recently told Iran it would not deliver fuel – scheduled for this year – to start up Bushehr unless Iran signed the “additional protocol” with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The protocol would give IAEA inspectors access to any nuclear facility. Its present commitments oblige Iran to allow inspections only at sites that have been declared. US fears of Iran’s nuclear capability are focused more on its alleged clandestine programme rather than the well-known project at Bushehr. But construction of its first big reactor has given Iran access to expertise beneficial to its weapons programme, US officials say.

The extent of Iran’s nuclear development was revealed in February when Mohammed El-Baradei, head of the IAEA, visited a site at Natanz designed for uranium enrichment. He was said to be surprised by its sophistication.

The US suspects Iran has built one or more pilot plants to enrich uranium. The National Council of Resistance of Iran – an exiled opposition group -alleged it knew of two other such plants.

Russia said it had asked Iran for guarantees it was not using its programme to develop arms.
The Financial Times


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