- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Russia's support for Iran's nuclear program could undermine a $20 billion U.S.-led effort to help dismantle the former Soviet Union's vast military arsenal, the State Department's proliferation chief said yesterday.

John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said at a Senate hearing that the Russia-Iran link complicates U.S. efforts to rally international support for President Bush's 10-year plan to contain and destroy Russian chemical and nuclear weapons stocks.

The effort was first announced at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Canada this summer.

"Iran is seeking all elements of a nuclear fuel cycle, from mining uranium to enrichment to production of reactor fuel," said Mr. Bolton, adding that there was "no economic justification" for the program, given Iran's vast domestic energy resources.

"The inescapable conclusion is that Iran is building a nuclear fuel cycle to support a nuclear weapons program," he said, with Russia providing critical technology and expertise despite repeated U.S. complaints.

"Concerns about Russia's performance on its arms control and nonproliferation commitments have already adversely affected important bilateral efforts, and unless resolved could pose a threat to new initiatives," including the G-8 accord, Mr. Bolton said.

Moscow has provided massive assistance for a nuclear power facility being built in the southern Iranian town of Bushehr, and Bush administration officials were caught off-guard when Russia announced in July plans for expanded cooperation with Iran on future nuclear power sites.

Russian and Iranian officials contend that the nuclear plants in question are intended solely for civilian energy needs.

Mr. Bolton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration is working hard to implement promises made at the G-8 meeting.

Under the "10 plus 10 over 10" formula, the United States would provide $10 billion over the next decade, to be matched by the leading European powers and by Japan, to dismantle chemical arms, nuclear weapons material and decommissioned nuclear submarines, and to employ weapons scientists.

To date, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan have pledged just half of the expected $10 billion, but Mr. Bolton said that many are still negotiating their contributions. France, which hosts the G-8 summit next year, also has pledged to make the program a top agenda item for the meeting.

But problems with the program have arisen in both Russia and the United States.

The Russian government has yet to provide guarantees on liability, taxation, access to sensitive sites and other matters that have hampered outside nonproliferation efforts.

"Millions of dollars previously committed by G-8 members remain [unspent] at present due to these problems," Mr. Bolton said. It is hard to get national legislatures to agree to spend more in such a situation, he added.

Congressional skeptics of Russia's commitment to disarmament programs have resisted an administration-backed provision to give the country a permanent waiver to receive nonproliferation funds. The stalemate has halted work on a high-profile chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuchye, Russia.

"Things are not on track," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and co-author of the 1991 legislation that established the first program for dealing with former Soviet weapons sites.

Mr. Lugar warned that U.S. delays only help "worker bees" deep in the Russian military bureaucracy who want to undermine President Vladimir Putin's promises on disarmament.


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