Just when international efforts to get Iran to suspend its nascent nuclear-weapons program seemed stalemated, Russia has weighed in — and on the side of the good guys for a change.
The Russians, claiming nonpayment by the Iranians, have stopped work on a civilian nuclear-power plant in the port of Bushehr and have begun recalling to Russia the 2,000 engineers and technicians working on the facility. Moreover, a senior Kremlin security adviser has told Iran it will withhold the shipment of enriched uranium fuel for the reactor unless Iran suspends its own uranium-enrichment program as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.
The new hard-line Russian attitude suggests that a heretofore-reluctant Moscow might go along with the tougher sanctions currently being considered by the Security Council, and it may indicate growing Russian unease over a nuclear-armed Iran.
Publicly, the Russians insisted that the commercial dispute over Bushehr, said to be 95 percent complete, was separate from the dispute over a possible weapons program. But tying delivery of civilian nuclear fuel to compliance with the Security Council demands would belie that.
In any event, relations are not good between the two former nuclear partners. The Bushehr reactor, whose construction the Russians took over from the Germans, is eight years behind schedule. According to the Associated Press, Iranian state television accused the Russians of slow-walking the construction, and further, “Doublestandard stances by Russian officials regarding Iran’s nuclear issue shows that Russians are not a reliable partner in the field of nuclear cooperation.”
The Russians indeed may have an ulterior motive. The Bush administration has suggested that, in return for Iran’s suspending its own enrichment operations, the Russians would supply it with civilian reactor fuel, a deal that could be highly lucrative.
It’s amazing what can happen when altruism coincides with self-interest.