Russian Nuclear and Foreign Ministry officials have this week launched a two front visit to assuage American fears over Russia's nuclear deals with Iran. They also present a new plan for cooperation with the United States regarding Moscow's support for Iran's nuclear infrastructure, Nuclear Power Ministry officials said Wednesday.
Alexander Rumyantsev will meet US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and other American officials during the week-long visit, according to Nuclear Energy Ministry spokesman Yuri Bespalko in a telephone interview with Bellona Web Tuesday. The trip comes ahead of a summit this month between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Differences over Iran have strained US-Russian relations despite an overall warming of ties since Putin offered strong support for the US-led anti-terrorist campaign last fall.
Rumyantsev, whose trip runs through Friday, will present a Russian-designed proposal for cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
"We want an agreement that will provide a durable foundation for cooperation," Bespalko said. While there are many US-Russian programs in the nuclear energy sector, they are not anchored by a broad overall agreement, he said.
Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran will be a "major subject" of Rumyantsev’s talks, Bespalko said.
"The Americans are always talking about Iran. There are many issues we want to clarify," he said, without elaborating.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov paved the way for Rumyantsev’s visit by coming to Stanford University in California on Monday, where reiterated Moscow’s stance that the Kremlin was unaware of any Iranian efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The US government, which accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism, is concerned Russia’s $800 million contract to build a nuclear reactor at the Iranian city of Bushehr could help Iran build nuclear weapons.
Russia’s Nuclear Energy Ministry (Minatom) insists the light-water reactor could not be used for developing a nuclear bomb and would remain under international control. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under whose supervision the reactor is being built has repeatedly said the Iran’s Bushehr facility corresponds to international standards for the peaceful use of atomic energy.
Speaking to a group of about 100 professors and students at Stanford’s Institute of International Studies, or IIS, Ivanov said his US counterparts regularly contacted him about "Moscow’s possible illegal deeds linked with nuclear or missile technologies," he was quoted as saying by the RIA News agency.
But, according to one IIS source in attendance at Monday’s speech, Ivanov challenged the United States to produce evidence of this collaboration.
"They have no reason to suspect such collaboration and if the US intelligence community has evidence of it, they should share this intelligence," he said according to the source.
"If the USA has such information, we are ready to study it jointly and resolve these concerns if this information is confirmed," Ivanov said.
To achieve this cooperation, Rumyantsev is carrying a proposal to Washington to set up joint working groups between the countries special services.
Moscow has also rejected US accusations that Russian institutes or companies have leaked missile technologies to Tehran. But in recent years, a handful of Russian academics and their institutions have run afoul of the US government for suspected technology exchanges with Iran. In 2000, Baltic University in St Petersburg was banned by the US Department of State from receiving any American support — from financial aid down to American produced textbooks.
The sanctions drew little more than a yawn from the institute’s flamboyant rector who answered the Americans by publicly touting the profitability of selling nuclear technology to Tehran.
Anton Khlopkov, author of a book called "The Iranian Nuclear Program in Russian-American Relations," was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying Tuesday that it remains unclear whether the Russian government is in full control over the export of sensitive technologies to Iran.
He also predicted that the United States "will shortly start using economic and political levers against Russia to seek a halt to nuclear cooperation with Iran."