Iran update: number 125


  • Russia commits to completing light water reactor at Bushehr; overall Russian-Iranian nuclear ties may be increasing
  • Iran risking new round of sanctions, but no news yet
  • French President Sarkozy takes up mantle as a principal intermediary between West and Iran
  • Syrian attempts to persuade Iran to more seriously commit to inspection regime
  • Iranian air force to hold war games during Ramadan

On September 2, the state-run Russian nuclear consortium, AtomStroiExport (ASE), announced its plan to resume work on the light-water reactor currently under construction at Bushehr. Construction at the site had stalled in the face of international controversy of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as apparent disputes between ASE and the Iranian government regarding payment.

The Bushehr plant, not scheduled to become operational before the end of this year, is a light-water reactor design suitable for either power generation or, potentially, plutonium production for weapons. This renewed effort to complete the project is the clearest indicator of a recent strengthening of ties between Iran and Russia. Russia has indicated that it may send some of its nuclear industry’s leading experts to aid Iran’s nuclear program, while simultaneously inviting Iranian nuclear scientists to train in Moscow. This latest affront to the Western-backed attempt to impede Iran’s nuclear program is a likely a response to American support of Georgia in the wake of that country’s recent military clash with Russia. However, it remains unclear at this stage how far Russia is likely to go in cooperation with Iran if its assistance were used to develop a military capability.

Iran risks a new round of sanctions if it fails to comply with the “freeze-for-freeze” offer from the P5+1, in which Iran would halt further centrifuge work in exchange for a cessation of future sanctions. Russian support for a new round of sanctions appears to have been wavering in recent weeks as a result of the Georgia conflict, so it could be that the next round will include action by European and US governments acting outside the Security Council framework. However, news on such additional sanctions has been thin since the supposed deadline for an Iranian response passed in early August.

More recently, on September 4, French President Sarkozy stated that the uncertainty of Israel’s reaction to an Iranian nuclear weapons program turned any such program into a gamble. “Iran is taking a major risk in continuing the process to obtain a military nuclear capacity,” argued Sarkozy, while meeting with regional leaders in Damascus. “Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine,” said the Iranian foreign ministry, which also categorically denied blame for the potential repercussions of any such pre-emptive Israeli attack, denouncing such a strike as a “catastrophe.” Iran is continuing talks with the IAEA concerning better cooperation.

The Syrian government this week has also attempted to serve as an interlocutor between Iran and western governments. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remonstrated against western governments taking military action over Iran, referring to such a move as a “disaster,” while promising to speak to Iran on behalf of the P5+1.

Iran announced a number of military exercises to be held during the month of Ramadan, which began on September 2. These largely involve Iran’s air force, and will involve responses to the scenario of an attack by American and Israeli forces. According to the commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces, Brig. General Ataollah Salehi, Iran has demonstrated “leaps in the field of air defense” and the war games will be designed to serve as a demonstration of this capability. Iran is also reported to have purchased Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, but the delivery date remains uncertain. Effectively deployed, S-300 missiles would significantly increase Iran’s air defense capability, and the chances of the Israelis losing aircraft in any attack. Russia has recently concluded another arms sale agreement with Iran involving 29 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems, in addition to training radar operators and commanders.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) agreed an exemption for India to its restrictions on nuclear technology transfers on September 8th. The German government, currently chairing the NSG, expressed concerns about its implications for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), particularly with reference to Iran.

“It is not an ideal solution. The negotiations were very difficult and we cannot say that we could not have imagined something better,” said German foreign ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner. The deepest criticisms focused on the deal’s failure to place punitive restrictions on India should it conduct nuclear weapons testing and for setting a dangerous precedent for other states looking to acquire nuclear weapon capabilites. However, Ploetner denied that the deal sent an “approving message to Iran”, calling India a “special case.”

Jeff King and Simon Fuchs, BASIC


Stories and links

For Iran, energy woes justify nuclear push, Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor, 09/09

India nuclear deal does not send message to Iran: Germany, [article half-way down page], AFP via Space War, 08/09

Russia explores other options on Iran , Press TV, 08/09

Shimon Peres warns Israel’s hawks over Iran strike, Uzi Mahnaimi, The Sunday Times, 07/09

China, Iran discuss nuclear issue, AP via Yahoo! News, 06/09

Iran rejects French warning it risks Israeli strike, Reuters, via The Washington Post, 06/09

Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program?
Summary of event with David Albright (ISIS), Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC, 05/09

Sarkozy warns Iran over risk of Israeli attack, Andrew England, The Financial Times, 05/09


Comments, editorial and analysis

A new approach to Iran’s nukes: A loyalty test can reassure Iran and the world, Charles Ferguson, Christian Science Monitor, 08/09

What’s missing from the Iran debate: building a security framework for a nuclear Tehran, David Kay, The Washington Post, 08/09

Iran’s lights are going out, M Cist, The Guardian (Comment), 02/09

Sabotage! Dutch Style, Jeffrey Lewis, Arms Control Wonk, 02/09
(Blog entry on speculation that the Dutch Government has recalled an undercover operative from Iran because of suspicions about a pending military strike on Iran.)

Safeguards at Natanz, Joshua Pollack, Arms Control Wonk, 28/08

Closing time: assessing the Iranian threat to the Strait of Hormuz, Caitlin Talmadge, International Security, Summer 2008

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