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April 22, 2006
Russia And Iran Reach Enrichment Agreement

The Ap reports breaking news that Russia and Iran have reached some sort of agreement on uranium enrichment. However, Iranian TV gave few details about the arrangement:

Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Saturday the Islamic republic had reached a "basic deal" with the Kremlin to form a joint uranium enrichment venture on Russian territory, state-run television reported.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, "spoke of a basic agreement between Iran and Russia to set up a joint uranium enrichment firm on Russian soil," Iranian state television reported.

It remained unclear, though, whether Iran would entirely give up enrichment at home, a top demand of the West, or whether the joint venture would complement Iran's existing enrichment program. Enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear reactors that generate electricity or to make atomic bombs.

"Only issues regarding technical, legal and financial matters remain to be resolved which need more deliberation and exchange of views," the television quoted Soltanieh as saying Saturday in Moscow.

Immediate questions:

1. Did Iran give up their domestic enrichment program? After the gala celebration that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threw when their scientists announced the successful enrichment in their 164-centrifuge cascade, it would seem difficult for him to suddenly announce that the program had ended.

2. Even if they did agree to stop enriching uranium on their own, what kind of verification regime has Iran endorsed in this agreement? Does the IAEA get to conduct snap inspections of all suspected nuclear facilities in the Islamic Republic? One would presume that Russia would have required this within the framework of any agreement it wanted the West to accept, but that assumes that Russia cares about the West's reaction any more.

3. Given the recent history of Russian appeasement of terrorists and their enablers, who monitors the Russian facilities and output to ensure that they don't just ship Iran weapons-grade material?

This agreement, if on the level, could help defuse the tense situation and allow Iran enough nuclear technology for domestic energy purposes while denying them the bomb. That requires a faith in Moscow that long ago should have been abandoned. Three years ago or even two, I might have applauded this development. Now it appears more like a Locarno Treaty -- an agreement that binds Iran only to the extent that Iranian capabilities do not currently exceed the limits of the agreement. Absent the key details, it looks more like a dangerous panacea that will Iran to continue its enrichment program relatively unfettered, under the protective wing of the Russian autocracy.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 22, 2006 10:19 AM

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