- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

MOSCOW President Bush yesterday vowed to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to end nuclear assistance to Iran during a summit that begins today, although Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Mr. Bush's concerns are "groundless."
"If you arm Iran, you're liable to get the weapons pointed at you," Mr. Bush said before flying from Berlin to Moscow. "Russia needs to be concerned about proliferation into a country that might view them as an enemy at some point in time.
"And if Iran gets a weapon of mass destruction, deliverable by a missile, that's going to be a problem," he added. "That's going to be a problem for all of us, including Russia."
But Mr. Ivanov insisted that Russia is providing civilian, not military, assistance to a nuclear power plant under construction in Bushehr, a small town in southwestern Iran.
"Sometimes, quite often, we hear what I want to stress are groundless statements that Russia is supposedly helping Iran, in particular, and some other countries develop nuclear and missile programs," Mr. Ivanov told state-owned ORT television.
"This is not true," he said. "Russia sticks firmly to its international obligations, and we have repeatedly told the United States this."
Mr. Ivanov's assertions were disputed by a senior administration official aboard Air Force One, who suggested that the power-plant project is a pretext for obtaining nuclear material that can be used for weapons.
"It's the single most important proliferation threat there is," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've not seen eye to eye with the Russians on what they're doing and what potential that gives for the development of Iranian nuclear weapons."
Although Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has had some "promising discussions" with his Russian counterpart, Moscow has continued its nuclear-assistance program, the official said.
"We think it's extremely worrying," the administration source said. "We think that we do have a closed, nontransparent country like Iran that is clearly bent on getting weapons of mass destruction and particularly nuclear weapons. When you have a country like Iran that clearly sponsors terrorism, Hezbollah and Hamas, that talks about the destruction of Israel, that's not a state that you want to be sharing anything that may have implications for nuclear technology."
The official said Russia has given the United States "a variety of responses" when asked to explain its nuclear assistance to Iran.
But the response Washington hears most, according to the official, is: "'This is a civilian nuclear reactor, and there are civilian nuclear reactors in a lot of places.' Of course, Iran is very oil-rich, which makes one wonder about the need for civilian nuclear power."
Mr. Bush said he would raise the issue during his fifth meeting with Mr. Putin, which begins today.
"That's going to be a topic," he said. "I'm going to make the case. We've got a lot of work to do with Russia."
He added: "I have brought that subject up ever since I've started meeting with Vladimir Putin."
Mr. Bush hopes the highlight of his latest summit will be today's signing of the Treaty of Moscow, which slashes the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States by two-thirds during the next decade.
He also wants to sign an agreement on broader principles, including Russia's acquiescence to America's development of a missile-defense shield.
Anti-Bush demonstrations were much smaller in Moscow than in Berlin. While tens of thousands of protesters swarmed the streets of Berlin, about 300 staged a rally in Moscow, burning an American flag before the president's arrival.

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