Russia has negotiated a payment schedule with Iran and will complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant, both nations announced today. The move comes in the wake of the NIE that reversed years of intelligence analysis and declared Iran’s nuclear weapons program halted. The Russians appear happy to accept that conclusion, even if Britain and Israel strongly disagree:
Russia and Iran have settled all differences over the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station and agreed on a time-table for its completion, the Russian contractor building the station said on Thursday.
“We have resolved all the problems with the Iranians,” said Sergei Shmatko, president of Atomstroiexport. “We have agreed with our Iranian colleagues a timeframe for completing the plant and we will make an announcement at the end of December.”
Russia’s role in building the Bushehr plant on the Gulf is at the centre of a diplomatic dispute. Western powers, which suspect Iran wants to develop a nuclear weapon, have pressed Moscow to drop the project.
After the release of the NIE, this was probably inevitable. The Russians want to export their nuclear technology for much-needed hard cash. They have not supported the sanctions on Iran imposed by the UN Security Council except as lip service, and in any case have never felt themselves bound to honor economic sanctions at all, as their history with Iraq proved. The American conclusion that Iran has stopped work on nuclear weapons provided them with the perfect opening for putting Bushehr back on track.
This puts the situation in a critical state. Once Russia delivers the fuel, an airstrike will be out of the question for Bushehr. The Israelis made sure to hit Osirak before France delivered the fuel in order to avoid spreading nuclear contamination over a wide area, where it would affect civilians. If the Israelis believe that Bushehr represents the same kind of threat as Osirak, it will have to strike very soon or not at all. They have stated over and over again that they will not allow Iran to go nuclear; will they have the same determination as they did in 1981 to stop them?