U.S. `concerned' about Russia-Iran nuclear ties

Reactors would speed N-arms, energy chief says

August 02, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said yesterday that the United States has the "utmost concern" about Russia's expanding nuclear cooperation with Iran, despite Kremlin assurances that it is dedicated to curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Russia published last week a 10-year economic cooperation plan with Iran that includes building five nuclear reactors in the Islamic nation that the White House says sponsors international terrorism. Bush has called Iran part of an "axis of evil."

Abraham told reporters in Moscow that civil nuclear energy projects would only speed Iran's nuclear weapons program. Iran denies developing nuclear weapons.

"Clearly, the extension of Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran remains an issue of utmost concern to us," Abraham said. "We have long been concerned that Iran's only interest in nuclear civil power, given its vast domestic energy resources, is to support its nuclear weapons program."

Moscow's ties with Iran have been a thorn in U.S.-Russia relations since 1995, when Russia signed an $800 million agreement with Tehran to build a single-reactor nuclear power plant in Bushehr, a city on the Persian Gulf.

The Kremlin insists that it is pursuing legitimate business deals, not aiding the spread of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power, along with armaments and space exploration, is one of the few lucrative areas where Russian technology is competitive on international markets. The five nuclear power projects are estimated to be worth $8 billion.

U.S. officials remain suspicious of Iran's interest in nuclear power, and after Sept. 11 the White House has been more vocal about its criticism of the Bushehr project.

In a May summit with Bush in Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin assured the American leader in private talks that Russia would do nothing to help Tehran obtain nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said.

In public, though, Putin bristled at the suggestion that Russia cut its ties with long-standing partner Iran. He told Bush during a news conference that Russia was building the same type of reactor in Iran that the United States had offered to North Korea, another nation Bush has branded an "axis of evil" state.

Abraham told reporters yesterday that the White House is conducting "sensitive discussions" with Moscow about its proposed nuclear deals.

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