1. Iran, Russia Set to Downplay Military As Khatami Heads to Moscow
March 9, 2001
(for personal use only)
TEHRAN, Mar 9, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Iranian President Mohammad Khatami begins a visit to Russia on Monday, in which Tehran and Moscow will show unity faced with U.S. criticism but will likely remain tight-lipped over their controversial military cooperation.
Iran and Russia, while allied in their denuniciations of U.S. hegemony and in opposition to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban milita, are engaged in a strong rivalry for influence in central Asia and especially for the rich resources of the Caspian Sea.
Khatami, making his first visit to Moscow since taking office in 1997, will also discuss the Middle East and Chechnya with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he will sign a joint statement that has yet to be finalized, according to the Russian embassy in Tehran.
But the statement will make no reference to the countries' military ties or even a reference to their "strategic relationship," said the Russian news agency Interfax, quoting a diplomatic source.
The presidents will sign "the customary framework treaty, indicating that Russia and Iran are developing good relations," the Russian source said, stressing however that Moscow did not rule out reaching an agreement on military and technical cooperation with Iran at a later date.
Russia announced in November it no longer intended to observe an agreement with the United States under which it was to stop selling conventional weapons to Iran. The about-face prompted the White House to threaten Russia with sanctions.
The first contracts could be signed in the middle of the year, Viktor Komardin, deputy director of the Russian weapons sales company Rosoboronexport, told journalists in at an airshow in the Indian city of Bangalore last month.
Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari recently said Russia could earn up to seven billion dollars -- more than three times Russian estimates -- by selling Iran conventional weapons and training its specialists over the next few years.
The countries' military ties were boosted in December by a trip to Tehran by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, and his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani is due to pay a similar visit to Moscow sometime this spring.
The United States has criticized the developing ties between Moscow and Tehran, particularly with regard to nuclear power stations, and accused Russia of being an "active proliferator" of nuclear technology.
Washington cites Iran among a number of "rogue states" said to be seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and says the danger is sufficient to justify building a strategic missile-based defense shield that would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
Iran is reportedly hoping to secure from Russia S-300 anti-air defense missiles, Mi-17 helicopters, Su-25 warplanes and army tanks.
Tehran has been under a Western embargo on advanced technology transfers since the 1979 revolution and is seeking to build up its military, crippled by the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Much of Iran's equipment was purchased from the United States by the former imperial regime of the shah during the 1970s, including warplanes. Iran has since signed major military contracts with China and North Korea.
Iran has historically had a contentious relationship with its northern neighbor and the former Soviet Union backed Iraq in the 1980-88 war.
After the Soviet Union's disintegration, agreements crumbled on sharing the resources of the Caspian, whose gas reserves are estimated at more than 12,000 billion cubic meters (420,000 billion cubic feet).
A summit had been scheduled to begin Thursday in Turkmenistan of the five littoral countries, which also include Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. But the meeting was postponed at the request of Iran, which wants the countries first to reach an agreement on exploiting the sea's resources.
Apart from his talks with Putin, Khatami will meet with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the head of Russia's Orthodox Church Alexis II and head of the council of muftis, Ravil Gainutdin. He will also travel to Saint Petersburg and the Muslim majority Russian republic of Tatarstan.
Khatami will discuss efforts to resolve the conflict in Chechnya, an issue he championed when Iran led the Organization of the Islamic Conference. return to menu
2. Iran Official Slams Russia on Nuclear Plant Delays
March 9, 2001
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TEHRAN, March 9 (Reuters) - A senior Iranian official has criticised Russian contractors for delays in building a nuclear power plant in Iran, saying the unit was only half-finished after seven years, Iranian state television reported.
"Russian experts fully master nuclear technology...but their management and planning is not on a level with their technical quality," television quoted Assadollah Sabouri, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, as saying late on Thursday.
"Sabouri criticised the slow pace of the Bushehr power plant's construction and said the contract to complete the first unit...was signed in January 1994 but this unit has not been commissioned after seven years," it added.
Sabouri was speaking before a scheduled visit to Moscow next week by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
He said the first unit, a 1,000-megawatt power station, was "about 50 percent completed" and that its main equipment would be installed during the next Iranian year which begins on March 21, the television reported.
Russia said last year the $800 million project in the Gulf port of Bushehr was on course for completion in 2002, but Iranian and Russian sources have said it may be up to two years late.
The United States has put pressure on Russia, which is holding talks with Iran to build a second reactor in Bushehr, to abandon the project. Washington says the Islamic republic may use the technology to develop nuclear weapons.
Tehran and Moscow insist their nuclear cooperation is of a strictly civilian nature. return to menu
3. Report: Iran equipping nuclear power plant
The Associated Press
March 8, 2001
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Moving closer to completing its first nuclear power plant, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization said Thursday it will install equipment at the Bushehr plant this year with the help of Russia, state-run radio reported.
The radio quoted an Iranian official, identified only by his surname Sabouri, as saying the "atomic equipment at Iran's Bushehr power plant will be installed next year through the cooperation of Iranian and Russian experts." Iran's New Year begins on March 21.
The official also said Iran would be able to recycle nuclear waste at the plant through the development of a new technology. He did not elaborate on the technology or its source.
The official gave no other details, and it was not possible to reach Iranian authorities for comment. The country is marking the Muslim feast of sacrifice or Eid al-Adha this week and government offices are closed.
It was not clear from the report when the Bushehr plant will be operational and what kind of equipment will be installed. The plant stands on the Gulf coast about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Tehran.
On Monday, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to go to Moscow where he is expected to sign several trade and defense contracts. Russia has been helping Iran to complete the Bushehr plant, which was started by the German company Siemens in the 1970s.
In 1985, Russia and Iran signed an initial $850 million agreement to complete the plant's 1,000 MW reactor by 2003, but the work did not begin until February 1998. In November 1998, Russia and Iran announced they were studying the possibility of building three more nuclear reactors at Bushehr.
Under strong U.S. pressure, Ukraine agreed not to provide the turbines for the reactors. In January, Russia shrugged off U.S. objections and said work had started to build a second reactor.
The United States has warned that civilian nuclear projects could help Iran develop the ability to produce nuclear weapons.
Moscow has repeatedly dismissed such warnings and insisted the Bushehr project allows the Russian nuclear industry to earn much-needed hard currency.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has not detected any suspicious nuclear activities in Iran. It has given Iran $1.6 million from its technical assistance fund to complete the Bushehr plant. return to menu
4. First Unit of Iran Bushehr Power Plant to be Operational Soon
Agence France Presse
March 9, 2001
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TEHRAN, Mar 9, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) The first unit of Iran's nuclear power plant in the southern Gulf city of Bushehr will be operational in the coming new Iranian year which begins on March 21, the official IRNA news agency reported Friday.
According to Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, the first phase of the Russian-built plant is expected to generate "some 1,000 megawatts of nuclear power," IRNA said.
In December, press reports announced that Iranian authorities were beginning the permanent evacuation of all villages surrounding the unfinished nuclear reactors in Bushehr.
The first residents were scheduled to be relocated within two months and all inhabitants within a 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius of the site are planned to be evacuated within a year.
German group Siemens was the initial contractor for the longstanding project but pulled out at the request of the German government after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
The site, repeatedly bombed during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, lay dormant until a 1995 deal with Moscow to supply two Russian-made reactors.
Iran's nuclear program has come under fire from Washington, which accuses Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and has criticized third parties for alleged technology transfers to the Islamic regime.
But Iran says the plant is being built only for civilian energy purposes, and allows regular inspections of Bushehr by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
5. Press Conference with State Duma Committee for Defense Vice Chairman Alexei Arbatov on Vladimir Putin's Foreign Policy [Excerpt]
Federal News Service
March 5, 2001
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Q: RIA Novosti. Returning to Nikolayev. At a press conference he said that Iran is a strategic partner of Russia and that it is in Russia's interests to have a militarily powerful state, Iran, on the southern direction. He said that Iran and Russia are strategic partners in such regions as the Caucasus and the Caspian. What do you think about this?
Arbatov: In the region you mention Iran is the most powerful state in terms of population, economy and armed forces. Russia and Iran have many points of contact which really turn them into partners. Iran is our regional partner, no doubt. And it is a counterweight to Turkey. As I said, in numerous areas Iran is Russia's regional partner. And not only in the Caucasian region but also in Central Asia, considering the Taliban factor and everything that is happening in Central Asia. Here, too, Iran is Russia's partner. We have not common but parallel interests and many points of contact.
Iran should be a militarily sufficiently strong state. But I am against Iran having very effective long-range systems such as missiles or supersonic long-range combat aircraft that would make its potential offensive and trans-regional. I think it would be wrong, first, because it would complicate Russia's relations with other countries in the region and outside the region such as the US or Europe which may find themselves -- first Europe and then, perhaps, the US -- within reach of these offensive weapons of Iran. It wouldn't be good for Russia, it would destabilize the whole situation, destroy the ABM Treaty, etc., everything we have discussed with you in such detail.
But Iran can well be a strong state. Of course, it is a state with a very unstable internal political regime. It is unclear which way Iran may veer. Perhaps, in three or two years time Iran will become mainly secular state and the Western countries will rush there, Western diplomacy and Western companies will race to regain what they lost in Iran beginning from the early 1980s. Or perhaps Iran will toughen the fundamentalist regime which is creating problems for Russia because Iran has several times taken an extremely hostile position with regard to Russia over the situation in Chechnya. It is another question that it was not widely reported in the press. But we should bear in mind that fundamentalist regimes are highly unpredictable.
That is why I wouldn't like to see them possessing powerful offensive weapons. For the rest, of course, Iran is our geopolitical and economic partner in a large region stretching from the Black Sea to Central Asia. return to menu
B. Nuclear Waste
1. Plant Keeping the Lid on Radiation Questions
St. Petersburg Times
March 9, 2001
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Administrators of a controversial factory to clean radioactive waste metals for commercial use stressed the safety of the project on Tuesday, but only to media members who observers say were chosen for their ignorance of the dangers posed by the plant.
The plant, EKOMET-S, is situated on the grounds of the Leningrad Atomic Energy Station, or LAES, in Sosnovy Bor - a militarily closed town 60 kilometers west of St. Petersburg. The factory, which opens in May, plans to produce 5,000 tons of cleaned metal per year initially, with an expanded output of 150,000 tons a year if it gets the go-ahead to build more plants, according to Interfax.
But EKOMET-S's proposal has met strong opposition from environmental groups and members of the Sosnovy Bor administration, who say the firm's raw material - taken from LAES' overflowing waste dumps - will expose users of products from kitchen utensils to cars to dangerously high levels of radiation.
They also say the firm has submitted incomplete documentation to Gosatomnadzor, the regulatory body, responsible for licensing nuclear facilities.
According to reporters and observers who attended Tuesday's press conference, these safety issues were not raised.
"They obviously chose a group of 'friendly' publications who would not put the tough questions to them," said Oleg Bodrov of Greenworld Sosnovy Bor, a non-governmental environmental organization, in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Anna Sharogradskaya, director of the Northwest Center for Press Development, agreed. "Sosnovy Bor is a closed town and it would have been much easier for [EKOMET-S] representatives to travel to St. Petersburg than for the press to travel to them," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"If they had been interested in discussing safety issues, they would have done that. Instead, they held the conference there, invited who they wanted and avoided tough questions."
A report by Interfax - which was invited - quoted Valery Buntushkin, an EKOMET-S spokesperson, as saying metals produced by the plant would emit some 30 microrems of radiation per hour. Though there is some dispute among scientists as to what a safe level is, 16 microrems per hour is the widely accepted norm.
Metals produced by the firm, therefore, will be nearly twice as radioactive. A reporter present at the conference - who requested anonymity - said reporters missed that element of the report.
"Actually, I don't think anyone knew what he was talking about," said the source.
When contacted on Wednesday, Buntushkin said through his secretary that the Interfax report was his "only comment" on the matter.
Aside from Interfax, however, the press conference made barely a ripple in the local media. The St. Petersburg Times - which has written critical reports on LAES in the past - was refused accreditation on the basis that its request was received too late, despite assurances from Buntushkin last week that there was "still plenty of time" to get on the list.
No other local papers carried the report.
According to Interfax, EKOMET-S was built with $10 million in loans from Russian banks, which the report did not name, using the yet-to-be produced metals as collateral. return to menu
2. Russia accused of stalling nuclear cleanup
March 9, 2001
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A western plan to spend billions of pounds cleaning up the Russian far north is in danger of collapsing in acrimony after more than two years of difficult negotiations between Russia, the European Union, the US, Norway, and Japan.
Governments in the west - especially those in Scandinavia - are frightened by the risks posed by what some have called "the world's biggest nuclear graveyard': the dozens of abandoned submarines with their nuclear reactors littering the Barents sea in the Russian arctic.
Russian and Scandinavian foreign ministers are to meet in the arctic port of Murmansk next week to try to reach an agreement to put billions of pounds in western aid money into what a 10-year project.
But the host of objections raised by the Russians has so exasperated the western negotiators that they are warning that the whole project could be ditched.
The Russian side is worried about preserving military secrecy, has insisted that western companies involved in the work must pay Russian taxes, and has declared that western governments or companies will be liable for any accidents during thework.
"What is the point of getting lots of experts together if they're not going to get anywhere? the EU external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, commented.
"In some ways the negotiations have slipped backwards. Is it wise to go on with endless meetings that don't go anywhere?"
The Kursk submarine disaster off the coast of Murmansk last summer highlighted the potential for nuclear pollution in the Barents sea. There are estimated to be about 100 Russian submarines rusting abandoned in the fjords of the Kola peninsula, with 300 nuclear reactors and 8,000 nuclear fuel elements.
The Swedes and the Norwegians are trying to inject urgency into the negotiations. Although the western is offering aid money, and much of it would go to western engineering companies contracted to do the work, the Russians have been insisting that those companies would then be liable to Russian taxation and their imported equipment subject to Russian customs duties.
"This is Norwegian taxpayers' money, given as aid. Norwegian politicians won't accept paying [tax] on what is seen as aid to Russia," said Thomas Nielsen, who is monitoring the talks for Bellona, a Norwegian environmental organisation which specialises in arctic nuclear pollution.
A meeting of experts in Moscow last week brought some movement on the taxation wrangle between Moscow and the EU, although sources said the Americans were still refusing to accept the Russian conditions. Russian officials declined to comment on the negotiations.
On the bigger problem of liability and indemnity, western officials are pessimistic about any agreement being reached before a Russia-EU summit in May.
"We want the western companies to enjoy a kind of diplomatic status so they are not terrorised by the Russian tax police and customs," a senior western diplomat in Moscow said.
"You're playing with atoms and people get scared. If something goes wrong, it's expensive. Who is going to pay for the damage? The Russians insist we're liable for any damage we cause. We're telling them they've got a problem with nuclear waste. But we're more concerned about it than they are."
A senior official in Brussels estimated the funds at stake at anywhere between $100m and several billion dollars. The overall cost of the clean-up is reckoned to be $10bn (about £7bn). Some of the biggest names in western nuclear engineering and waste management, such as British Nuclear Fuels, stand to gain from the contracts if the project gets the green light.
The negotiations on the so-called MNEPR (multilateral nuclear environmental programme for Russia) began two years ago.
But while the Russians appear happy to string them out, key western donors are fed up, Mr Nielsen said.
"The Russians are not going to sign the agreement, because they fear losing control of the project," he predicted. "And there is a time limit on the west's willingness to lend its technological help."
European commission officials said that the urgent task was to get the abandoned submarines into shallow water, to reduce the risk of radioactive materials being dispersed into the ocean.
The nuclear fuel and the reactors could then be detached from the vessels and put into storage.
But Russian Baltic and Northern fleet officers were balking at allowing western engineers into areas they regard as top-secret, they said.
"We now have a situation where both sides are aware that if there is no progress, there is a risk of a major collapse," one said.
"There has to be a breakthrough not later than the EU-Russia summit in May," the western diplomat in Moscow said.
"Otherwise one has to question whether it is worthwhile to continue."
Mr Nielsen said that rather than a multilateral agreement, Moscow's negotiators would prefer to deal with one western participant at a time.
Failure to reach a deal could also dash Russia's hope of the EU contributing tens of millions of dollars towards raising the Kursk and its two nuclear reactors from the bed of the Barents sea this summer. return to menu
C. Russian Nuclear Power Industry
1. Russian Nuclear Power Plants to Get New Equipment in 2001
Military News Agency
March 9, 2001
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MOSCOW, Mar 9, 2001 -- (Military News Agency) All 29 reactors of Russian nuclear power plants face a serious problem of replacing housetops of combustible materials, Major-General Viktor Molchanov, deputy department head in the Interior Ministry's state fire fighting service, told the Military News Agency on Wednesday.
Several reactors will get new housetops already in 2001 as a result of planned repairs, Molchanov said. Firemen managed to extinguish two fires at nuclear power plants in 2000. Unfortunately the level of fire security is quite low in the atomic industry, Molchanov said. Fire inspectors find up to 300 violations of fire security rules at some plants. The most dramatic situation is still at the Kursk and Novovoronezh nuclear power plants where a number of defects in the safe operation system was eliminated only at the request of the state fire security inspection, Molchanov added.
Technical reconstruction of fire security system already started at nuclear power plants in 2001, Molchanov went on. Particularly oxygen systems of autonomous respiration and security costumes will be replaced by the improved ones, and fire security units will be provided with new equipment, elevating and water-pumping mechanisms. A number of command staff exercises on fire extinguishing will take place at several nuclear power plants. return to menu