- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

Moscow vowed yesterday to continue its nuclear assistance to Iran even if Tehran rejects the tougher international inspections demanded by the United States, as a senior foreign policy adviser to President Vladimir Putin brushed aside U.S. criticisms of the Russian program.

“We genuinely do not understand what the Americans want from us,” said Dmitry Rogozin, the influential chairman of the Russian State Duma’s committee on international affairs, in an interview yesterday at the start of a visit to Washington.

Arguing that Russia would be a primary target if Iran did acquire nuclear weapons, Mr. Rogozin said, “We are not so insane as to set up a time bomb under our own chairs.”

Contradicting assertions made Wednesday by senior Bush administration officials and by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told reporters in Moscow yesterday that Mr. Putin had not pledged to halt nuclear fuel shipments to Iran until the government there agreed to a stricter monitoring program of the United Nations.

Mr. Yakovenko said Russia will require Iran to sign a bilateral accord to return all spent nuclear fuel — which could be used to produce the plutonium for nuclear bombs — from the joint program to Russia.

But Moscow has no plans to terminate its $800 million contract to build a light-water reactor at the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr, he said, despite sharp U.S. criticisms.

Iran’s Islamic Republic New Agency reported this week that Gholamreza Aqazadeh, chief of the country’s nuclear programs, planned to travel to Moscow next month to nail down contracts for the completion of the Bushehr plant.

U.S. officials see the Bushehr project as part of an Iranian effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration has been seeking international support to force Tehran to agree to tougher inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. watchdog group.

“The conclusion is inescapable that Iran is pursuing its ‘civil’ nuclear energy program not for peaceful and economic purposes but as a front for developing the capability to produce nuclear materials for nuclear weapons,” John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said at a House hearing this week.

Mr. Rogozin, in Washington for meetings with senior administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, insisted there were airtight controls of Russia’s nuclear contracts with Iran. He said companies in Europe, which he did not name, were far more culpable in delivering equipment and technical aid to help Iran’s weapons programs.

The lawmaker said many in Russia remained skeptical of U.S. arguments for the recent war against Iraq, and the failure to discover large stocks of weapons of mass destruction there only fed Russian doubts about Iran.

“Your CIA said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We never thought so in Russia, and so far nothing has been found,” he said.

“Now, the CIA makes the same claim for Iran. How on earth can we give them our trust one more time when they just made such a mistake?” he asked.

Mr. Rogozin said he did not expect any long-term damage to U.S.-Russian relations, despite the sharp differences over the Iraq campaign.

“My message is that we didn’t disagree with your goals in the recent crisis, but we do have some real disagreements with some of your methods,” he said. “I think we can always argue about individual issues, but we should not make mistakes in our relationship that are irreversible.”

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