This weekend one of the issues on the table at the St. Petersburg summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be Iran's nuclear energy program -- and its alleged development of nuclear weapons. Of particular interest to Washington, as RFE/RL reports, is the cooperation between Tehran and Moscow.
Prague, 29 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says she expects the contentious issue of Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran to be raised at this weekend's summit in St. Petersburg between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. administration has repeatedly accused oil-rich Iran of trying to develop a nuclear energy program in order to hide a secret nuclear weapons program.
Russia's technology sales to Iran and its help in the construction of Iran's first nuclear reactor have been major points of contention between Moscow and Washington and have added to the existing tensions over Russia's refusal to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Iran denies the charge that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, saying that its nuclear facilities are only for the purpose of generating electricity.
Officials in Washington have said they hope the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will declare next month that Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The IAEA Board of Governors is due to conduct a two-day meeting at its headquarters in Vienna starting 16 June and IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei is expected to issue a formal report at that meeting about Iran's nuclear activities.
Rice spoke about the issue yesterday during a press conference in Washington. "We're discussing with the Russians and have been discussing for some time, the proliferation threat that we believe Iran poses. We believe that the recent findings of the IAEA on their visit to Iran will demonstrate that there is indeed a problem that needs to be dealt with in Iran," Rice said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that Washington should wait for the IAEA to give their verdict on Iran's nuclear program instead of accusing Tehran of developing nuclear weapons.
In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Russia's position is that only the IAEA, as a specially mandated international body, can judge Tehran's observation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned yesterday that Moscow won't tolerate what he called "unsubstantiated accusations" leveled against it for helping Iran build a nuclear power plant.
Ivanov also was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as warning Washington against provoking confrontation with Tehran.
Russia signed a deal with Iran in 1995 to build a nuclear reactor in the southern city of Bushehr -- despite U.S. concerns that the project could help Tehran build an atomic bomb.
On 26 May, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant would not be affected by frictions between the United States and Iran.
But the Kremlin also has been trying to mend ties with Washington that were damaged by their dispute about the war in Iraq. Some Russian officials have appeared eager to get the relationship back on track ahead of this weekend's St. Petersburg summit.
On 27 May, Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov called on Tehran to provide international guarantees that its energy program has only peaceful aims.
In a meeting with Iran's ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Shafei, Mamedov expressed concern about the existence of "serious, unresolved questions in connection with Iran's nuclear research."
Mamedov said Iran should sign "as soon as possible" an additional agreement with the IAEA to put all of Tehran's nuclear facilities under closer scrutiny. He also said the UN agency should thoroughly discuss the matter at its meeting in June.
Rice yesterday told journalists that Russia is not the only country engaged in cooperation with Iran, and that Bush and Putin are likely to discuss the issue.
"We will wait for that IAEA report. But I think that the presidents will want to talk about what steps can be taken to make certain that any efforts anyone is engaged in with Iran -- and by the way, it's not just Russia who is engaged in various kinds of cooperation with Iran -- are not actually contributing to the potential problem of a military nuclear program in Iran," Rice said.
Rice said recent talks between the United States and Russian officials would form the groundwork for the talks in St. Petersburg about Russia's cooperation with Iran in the nuclear sector:
"We believe that we've had pretty fruitful discussions with Russia in recent months on this matter, particularly [Russian Atomic Energy] Minister [Alexander] Rumyantsev and [U.S. Energy] Secretary [Spencer] Abraham have had very important discussions. And the discussions, as I said, have been fruitful and far-ranging. And I think the presidents will want to build on those," Rice said.
Washington has increased its diplomatic pressure on Iran since the end of the war in Iraq. In recent days, the United States has accused Tehran of harboring Al-Qaeda terrorists who may be linked to the recent terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.