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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov)

The head of the international nuclear watchdog is to deliver a report to the UN Security Council on Iran’s nuclear program this week, which could decide the fate of the controversial Bushehr nuclear project.
Since Tehran and Moscow signed a contract on completing construction of its first power unit on January 8, 1995, the nuclear power plant in southern Iran has been a source of international concern that Iran could use the project as part of a covert weapons program.
The project was originally started by Germany’s Siemens in 1975, and also involved France and the United States. But work on it stopped with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Many people in Russia have heard of Bushehr.
Some view it as a sign of Iran’s confidence in Russia, while others consider it a soap opera with an inevitable happy ending to follow, although not without headaches for Moscow.
Russian state nuclear equipment export monopoly Atomstroyexport is providing technical assistance to the construction, but the project itself has long ceased to be a simple bilateral or purely business matter.
When the Security Council was drafting Resolution 1737, Russia was accused of resisting the efforts of other major UN powers to impose punitive measures against Iran, allegedly to protect its interests in Bushehr. The resolution was adopted in December 2006 and provides for sanctions against Iran, banning activities involving uranium enrichment, chemical reprocessing, heavy water-based projects, and the production of nuclear weapons delivery systems.
It now appears that it would be better for Russia, both in terms of pure profit and considering Iran’s questionable reliability, to sell on the contract.
The U.S., the EU and Iran have been trying to use the Bushehr project to their advantage, and it would be naĞve to think that Russia is not doing the same.
The French newspaper Le Monde earlier wrote that Tehran was using the project to blackmail Moscow into acting in its interests, and that Moscow allegedly complied for fear of losing a lucrative contract.
How did Moscow respond? When the issue of nuclear waste became a problem (there is an agreement obliging Iran to return spent fuel, which could potentially be used for a nuclear weapons program, to Russia), the Kremlin said the power plant was being built under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog. That assuaged international fears, for some time.
But the situation has changed since then. During a visit to Tehran in December 2006, Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia’s Federal Nuclear Power Agency, bluntly warned Iran that the completion of the project directly depended on financing.
As of mid-February 2007, Iran had not made payments under the $1 billion project in Bushehr for over a month. Difficulties emerged after Iran abolished payments in U.S. dollars and made a transition to payments in euros.
The project has entered the final stage. According to Atomstroyexport, the deliveries of nuclear fuel for the power plant should start in March 2007, and the plant is to be put into operation in September and start producing electricity in November.
The planned delivery of nuclear fuel has again drawn the world’s attention to Bushehr. Moscow has not changed its stance on the Iranian nuclear problem, saying that the IAEA is the top authority on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei is to report to the Security Council in the next few days on Iran’s compliance with the UN resolution. If Tehran does not suspend uranium enrichment by that time, the UN may approve harsher sanctions, including severance of economic relations.
It stands to reason that Moscow has nothing to gain from hurrying to deliver nuclear fuel to Bushehr, as there is no guarantee that this soap opera will have a happy ending.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board. -0-