Russian nuclear support for Iran limited by distrust
Russia has trained hundreds of Iranian nuclear scientists and blocked international action against Tehran. But beneath the surface, there is profound distrust.
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Taking over for the US
Iran's nuclear ambitions predate the 1979 Islamic revolution. Back then, American companies were among those bidding to build 20 power reactors for the pro-West Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.Skip to next paragraph
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"The media picture is not quite balanced," says Anton Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, which is compiling a history of enrichment in Iran.
"I can tell you it was not Russia that launched this [Iran nuclear] project," says Khlopkov, editor of the Nuclear Club journal. "What is the driving force behind [Iran's] program today are the specialists trained in the US; hundreds went to MIT, Harvard, Berkeley.... If we want to understand the advance of Iran's programs, we must start in the 1950s and 1960s."
But the US ceased its support after the Islamic revolution, and the Soviet Union, too, was considered an enemy until its collapse.
Today, Russia has so far completed training for 524 Iranians to operate Bushehr, Iran's $1 billion, 1000-megawatt reactor on the Persian Gulf coast, as part of a contract signed in 1995. Its completion was delayed for more than a decade, and the reactor finally reached full capacity for the first time last week.
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Another 160 Iranians have started training, while 14 are undergoing "in-depth" work, according to Eduard Saakov, general director of Atomtekhenergo, the branch of Russia's state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom.
Iranians trained here will be "directly responsible for safety of the nuclear power station," says Mr. Saakov. The Russian nuclear fuel Iran uses is under safeguard of the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
"Instructors who train Iranian experts are guided by requirements of the approved programs and procedures," says Saakov. "Training of Iranian personnel for any other programs but Bushehr is absolutely excluded."
Distrust erodes cooperation
Such limits today are in stark contrast to the 1990s, when Russia appeared to have a much more flexible policy toward Iran.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2001 quoted a mid-2000 CIA report: "Despite some examples of restraint, Russian businesses continue to be major suppliers of WMD equipment, materials, and technology to Iran," the CIA report read. "Specifically, Russia continues to provide Iran with nuclear technology that could be applied to Iran's weapons program."