Russia's Security Council secretary, Igor Ivanov, is to pay a working visit to Tehran on July 4-5 at the invitation of Hasan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. Tehran and Moscow maintain intensive diplomatic contacts. For example, Iranian Foreign Minister Dr Seyyed Kamal Kharrazi visited Moscow in mid-May and Mr Rowhani visited Moscow in November 2003. Igor Ivanov's return visit was entirely expected, but current circumstances mean that it would have been difficult to find a better time for it.
Ivanov's visit will take place two weeks after the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) board of directors passed a new resolution on Iran (June 18, 2004). Tehran, which had expected the IAEA to close its nuclear file, was unhappy that the Agency chose not to do so. Consequently, the Iranian leadership announced that it intended to resume producing components for centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium. This statement could not but alarm the international community and the issue, as well as the Iranian nuclear programme as a whole, were discussed during IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei's Moscow visit in late June. Ivanov will undoubtedly raise these issues in Tehran, where he will also discuss some other top-priority issues in the sphere of international and regional security.
Moscow believes that Iran has every right to develop its civilian nuclear power industry. However, uranium-enrichment technologies seem to be less important, as it merely complicates Iran's dialogue with the international community. At the same time, it would be erroneous to state that the international community's position in regard to Tehran is based on prejudice.
The world is now beginning to understand that each country does not necessarily have to establish its own nuclear-fuel production facilities. Several countries, namely, Russia, the US, France and Britain, which supply nuclear fuel elsewhere, can meet global demand for such fuel. A status quo should be observed, facilitating worldwide stability and benefiting nuclear-fuel importers, too. Among other things, Iran would spend less on importing Russian nuclear fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power station than it would by producing its own. It is hardly surprising that the international community is apprehensive about Iran's uranium-enrichment experiments given that the expediency of this move in open to question.
Such actions may prove detrimental to Iran's attempts to close its nuclear file. Accordingly, Russia and other countries that maintain political and trade and economic contacts with Tehran would like the Iranian side to freeze its entire uranium-enrichment programme, even though the IAEA does not believe the experiments are in breach of Iran's international commitments.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the complete implementation of the IAEA resolution will make it possible to completely remove all issues pertaining to the transparency of Iran's nuclear programme from the IAEA board's agenda. The IAEA has listed all the remaining problems that are cause for concern and need further clarification.
Moscow does not believe that the latest IAEA resolution on Iran contains any tough-worded provisions. On the contrary, this document emphasises Tehran's cooperation with the IAEA. Moreover, Dr ElBaradei noted during his latest Moscow visit that the Iranian side was fulfilling all of its commitments. The Iranian nuclear file remains open for purely technical reasons, so one should not perceive this fact as malicious intent with regard to Tehran.
The point is that Iran has signed an additional protocol to the nuclear-guarantees agreement with the IAEA, thus enabling IAEA inspectors to oversee its nuclear programme more actively. Naturally, subsequent experiments give rise to new questions.
For its own part, Moscow would like Iran to implement a completely transparent nuclear programme. This would spell the end to regular US and Israel reproaches to the effect that Russia's assistance within the framework of the Bushehr project enables Iran to acquire nuclear technologies. In response, Russian officials always say that, considering Iran's proximity to Russia, Moscow does not want Tehran to develop weapons of mass destruction and is ready to do everything possible to prevent any such development. Moscow is currently proceeding from the premise that the lack of evidence about alleged Iranian violations of its non-proliferation commitments enables Russia to cooperate with Tehran in the nuclear energy sphere.
At the same time, Russian officials in Moscow have repeatedly said that Russian-Iranian cooperation in this sphere is restricted to completing one Bushehr power unit alone; and anything else is out of the question. Moreover, the Iranian station is being constructed under IAEA supervision and in full compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Accordingly, the Bushehr project and Iran's nuclear programme are two absolutely different issues and the IAEA completely supports this position. Talking to reporters in Moscow, Dr ElBaradei said that Bushehr had not been raised during his talks with the Russian leadership. The international public is not concerned about this issue because it is connected with the civilian nuclear power industry and Iran's spent nuclear fuel should be returned to Russia under an agreement, Dr ElBaradei stressed.
It should be pointed out that Moscow is demanding that the two countries sign a document stipulating the return of spent nuclear fuel to Russia. Commercial aspects of an additional protocol on returning nuclear fuel to Russia (for subsequent storage and processing) are currently being finalised. Alexander Rumyantsev, general director of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, noted, "nuclear fuel for launching the Iranian station has been prepared and will be delivered to Iran after this document is signed." This will most likely happen during Rumyantsev's scheduled visit to Tehran, the terms of which are now being coordinated through diplomatic channels.
Moreover, Russia's Atomic Energy Agency claims that Tehran has asked Moscow to study the possibility of jointly building the second power unit at Bushehr. Iran plans to hold the relevant international tender this autumn. However, no official statements have been made on this score so far. It is clear that Iran now views Russia as its priority partner in the field of nuclear-energy cooperation. However, it would be premature to discuss any new projects at this stage.
Russia and Iran must now sign an agreement on returning all spent nuclear fuel to Russia and this is seen as a top priority of bilateral relations. The Iranian nuclear file must be closed, as well. Tehran hopes that the Russian Federation will play a more active role in this process, but a great deal depends on Iran itself.