Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Monday, 17 December 2007

Russia ignores West's Iran fears

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

Bushehr nuclear reactor - file photo
Bushehr plant is nearing completion

The delivery by Russia of nuclear fuel to Iran probably says more about Russia's attitude towards Iran and the West than it does about Iran's nuclear intentions.

It appears that Russia is unconcerned about Western fears over Iran. The implication is that it will not easily agree to an increase in UN sanctions on Iran.

The fuel, enriched uranium, is to be used in the nuclear plant near Bushehr in southern Iran. This plant is quite separate from Iran's own uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. The Bushehr power station has been under construction for a long time and is under international inspection.

Russia itself has enriched the uranium for Bushehr. The argument about Iran is that Iran should not do the enrichment, in case it one day uses the technology to make a nuclear bomb.

Nevertheless, Western governments had hoped that Russia would delay delivery, in order to increase the pressure on Iran over its enrichment policy.

"It appears that Russia has decided that there is no longer a political reason to hold up the provision of fuel," said Mark Fitzpatrick, nuclear expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"An important factor was probably the continuation of the International Atomic Energy Agency's work with Iran on questions about its past activities. The recent report from US intelligence in the National Intelligence Estimate [that Iran was not actively seeking a nuclear weapon] probably confirmed the Russian view. It asked the IAEA to inspect the sealing of the fuel containers at about the same time.

"Russia has probably concluded that Iran is not going to be dissuaded and that enrichment is a fait accompli. Others still believe Iran can be persuaded."

History of Bushehr

The Bushehr nuclear plant was started back in 1974 under the Shah of Iran, who proposed an extensive nuclear power programme. A German company was contracted to build two reactors.

However the work stopped after the Shah was overthrown and it was not until the 1990s that Russia stepped in and agreed to complete the project.

Russia has probably concluded that Iran is not going to be dissuaded and that enrichment is a fait accompli
Mark Fitzpatrick IISS

Russia has from time to time announced delays, said to be connected to late payments by Iran (denied by Iran), but thought to be connected to the pressure on Iran to comply with the IAEA and Security Council demand for it to stop its own enrichment programme.

Bushehr is on the verge of completion as a nuclear power plant.

Russia has agreed to supply it with the enriched uranium needed as fuel.

Western countries and Russia have offered Iran a similar arrangement for any other nuclear power stations it might build, as long as Iran agrees to stop enriching uranium itself.

Russia might feel that, since Iran is being offered such a deal, its own delivery of fuel is consistent with that policy.

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