Russia exempted from nuclear trade with Iran in draft UN sanctions against Tehran

Publish date: October 17, 2006

To prevent Russia from flexing its veto power on the United Nations Security Council, Moscow will be exempted from possible sanctions against Tehran and allowed to continue nuclear collaboration with the Iran, where it is building a nuclear reactor, US and European officials told Reuters.

The exclusion for Russia’s project in the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr to finish building an $800m, 1,000 megawatt light water reactor, said diplomats, is geared to dissuade Russia from blocking a sanctions package that includes prohibitions on providing Iran with nuclear and missile technologies.

The sanctions package is currently being drafted by Britain, France and Germany to punish Iran for its nuclear programme, which western nations consider a weapons programme in the making. Iran has consistently denied this, saying its nuclear pursuits are entirely for energy purposes.

But the three European powers included the exception for Russia in order that Moscow may finish the Bushehr reactor, which is scheduled to go on line in November 2007. There are believed to be from 1,500 to 2,000 technicians working on the reactor, all of whom will remain after the project is completed.

The exemption for Moscow, said one US official “ensures that you get the Russians to go along,” Mosnews reported.

According to France’s ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, the three European nations plan to put forth a draft UN Security Council resolution against Tehran “during the course of this week – we are aiming for Wednesday or Thursday,” he told Reuters.

The resolution is designed, diplomats told news services, to impose limited sanctions that include nuclear and missile cooperation after Iran skipped an August 31st deadline to stop enriching uranium.

Diplomatic and analytic division on the exemption
Not all parties were pleased with Russia’s exemption from nuclear cooperation in the sanctions package draft.

“We think there shouldn’t be any cooperation on the nuclear side and none on missile side or even a defense relationship (with Iran but) the Russians think it’s OK for there to be nuclear cooperation as long as it’s for civilian purposes,” one European diplomat said, according to Mosnews.

But some saw other avenues of diplomatic leverage in allowing Russia to maintain its nuclear ties with Iran. Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow office said letting Russia proceed with the Bushehr project will give the Security Council more future flexibility to further tighten sanctions, he told Mosnews.

Rose Gottemoeller, director of Carnegie’s Moscow office and a former senior official in the Clinton administration’s Energy Department, said she too was comfortable with the Bushehr exception drafted into the UN resolution, Mosnews reported.

“My basic conclusion is (Russian officials) have gotten religion on this issue and have tailored the Bushehr fuel services contract to properly avoid proliferation while preserving the reactor deal,” she said in an email interview.

Many also feel more secure as Russia will be furnishing uranium fuel and taking it back after use, thus reducing proliferation risks. But if Iran does not stop enrichment, it will be able to produce its own fuel, making the spent fuel return deal with Russia moot.

The Bush administration is negotiating with Moscow on a U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement that some experts predict will bring such a windfall of lucrative nuclear trade that Russia would see more profit in simply casting aside the Bushehr contract. But one US official told Mosnews that “Russia wants both.”