Illicit Assistance

October 31, 2005

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Publication: 

American Israel Public Affairs Committee: Near East Report

Related Country: 

  • Russia

Russia is continuing to support Iran's atomic programs diplomatically and with direct aid, prompting American calls for Moscow to get behind international efforts to stop Tehran's illicit nuclear work

American officials are concerned that Russia is helping Iran's nuclear program and hampering international efforts to convince Tehran to end its quest for atomic weapons.

Worries about Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation pre-date last month's wrangling over whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for violating its international non-proliferation obligations.

U.S. lawmakers have worked for years to persuade Russia to end its support for Iran's atomic activities, contending that a nuclear Iran would represent an unacceptable threat to American interests in the Middle East.

Russia Has Stalled Action Against Iran's Nuclear Programs While Russia did not vote against a recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution that called for eventually referring Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, it has helped to delay such a step.

Along with China and India, Russia opposed an earlier version of the measure that would have sent Iran to the council immediately for possible sanctions.

While the drive to refer Iran to the council is supported by a coalition led by the United States and its European allies, Russia has continued to oppose the West's efforts in the weeks since the IAEA vote.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov maintained that the Iranians "have this right'' to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), even though Tehran violated the NPT for nearly two decades by hiding its atomic work from the international community.

Russia Has Provided Aid to Iranian Atomic Efforts In addition to delaying action against Iran's atomic programs, Russia has worked actively to further Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The centerpiece of Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation is located at Bushehr, an atomic plant in southern Iran scheduled to be operational next year. Moscow first agreed to help construct a reactor at Bushehr in 1995, and American officials have consistently raised objections to the project.

Russian scientists with nuclear expertise have provided guidance to their Iranian counterparts at Bushehr, and Russia has announced its willingness to provide Iran with 100 tons of nuclear fuel for the reactor.

Once launched, Bushehr would be able to produce enough plutonium to develop several nuclear bombs per year.

American officials are also concerned that the training given Iran by the Russian scientists at Bushehr could be used to develop other parts of Iran's nuclear program.

Congress Has Worked to End Russia's Support for Iran's Nuclear Work Congress has tried to deter Russia from cooperating with Iran's quest for atomic arms with legislation and other initiatives strongly supported by AIPAC.

For five years, the Iran Non-Proliferation Act (INA) has been an important tool in pressing Russia to stop aiding Iran's nuclear weapons and missile programs. Among the act's most important provisions is a ban on U.S. payments to Russia for manned space projects unless Russia complies with its obligations to end its ongoing proliferation to Iran.

The House of Representatives voted this week to allow limited space cooperation with Russia without weakening INA.

Under INA and other forms of past U.S. pressure, Russia rewrote its export regulations to more strictly police trade with Iran.

Recently, with Russia opposing Iran's immediate referral to the Security Council, both houses of Congress have passed resolutions calling for the world to work to stop Iran's nuclear activities.

Lawmakers have also urged Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to press Russia to stop abetting Iran's illicit nuclear work, calling for them to raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While Putin's government has so far refused to end its support for Iran's nuclear program, American officials remain hopeful that Moscow will change course. Few nations, after all, are better positioned to persuade Tehran that its atomic dream is untenable than the nation that has done the most to advance Iranian nuclear efforts.

Absent such a turnaround, though, Congress can be expected to continue pressing Russia to cut off the flow of nuclear materials and know-how to Iran.