Amid international pressure on Iran to halt its disputed nuclear program, Tehran has expressed interest in helping neighboring Persian Gulf states jointly construct nuclear power plants.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization made the offer on November 30 during an international seminar on nuclear power plants and environmental issues held in Tehran.
Gholam Reza Aqazadeh announced that Tehran has a "comprehensive proposal" for the creation of a consortium with Gulf neighbors to develop and construct develop light-water nuclear reactors. Aqazadeh didn't go into details about what the proposal might entail, waiting to see if they would be agreeable to the idea in principle.
There was no immediate reaction to the proposal from the Gulf states, many of whom have in the past announced their intentions of having their own civilian nuclear programs.
Alex Vatanka, a managing editor of "Jane's Intelligence Digest," says that the offer is a purely political gesture toward the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an economic and cultural union that brings together six Arab countries -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Tehran has expressed interest in such cooperation for many years but had to this point been largely ignored by the GCC.
Vatanka says that, at this stage, the grouping may be more open to the idea, noting that just last week a prominent official from a GCC state mentioned the possibility of nuclear cooperation with Iran.
"[Iran's proposal] also comes right on the back of the statement by Prince Bin Talal from Saudi Arabia -- the half-brother of [Saudi] King Abdullah, who recently came out and said there have to be ways for the Arab states, the GCC states, to reach out to the Iranians, to build confidence between the GCC states and Iranians," Vatanka says. "Now he also mentioned collaboration on the nuclear front."
Vatanka says that unlike Iran, whose Bushehr nuclear plant is being constructed with Russia's help, GCC countries have access to Western technologies. Having some kind of cooperation agreement with Iran may provide them with assurances that all avenues are being explored in terms of technology and safety.
"If the GCC states are looking at this at purely from [the point of view of] a damage control exercise, purely saying: 'Look, the Iranians are getting everything they have in Bushehr from the Russians. The Russian technology might not be the best available on the market. Why don't we help them -- indirectly giving them access to Western technology at Bushehr -- not because we want to help the Iranians, but because we want to help ourselves by preventing a potential accident or minimizing the prospects for accident or something going wrong in Bushehr.'"
However, Iran's Gulf neighbors in the past have expressed suspicions over Tehran's nuclear program, which has attracted controversy and allegations from the United States and other Western countries that it is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.
The GCC member states have no unified position on the issue, but their own partnerships with the West could prevent them from engaging in nuclear cooperation with Iran. Tehran, for its part, has consistently said its nuclear program is peaceful.