Interview: Viktor Mikhailov: Part 2

By VIKTOR LITOVKIN, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  March 23, 2006 at 3:31 PM
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MOSCOW, March 23 (UPI) -- Viktor Mikhailov is a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the director of the Institute of Strategic Stability of the Russian Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, a chief expert of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center at the Research Institute of Experimental Physics, a holder of the Soviet and Russian Lenin and State awards, and was the nuclear minister from 1992-1998. He discussed his insight into Iran's nuclear capabilities and ambitions with Viktor Litovkin, military commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti and is the second of two parts.

RIA NOVOSTI: Why do you think Tehran has rejected the European pleas to leave the International Atomic Energy Agency's seals in place and keep from independent reactor research?

MIKHAILOV: That's because I think it will take Europeans very long before they regain Iran's trust. They had activities there, and one day they ran away, leaving everything behind. Siemens, a respected European, German, corporation, abandoned everything as [the] Americans pressed for it. Tehran, aware that this could happen again at any time, has clearly not treated its talks with the European Trio, or EU3, seriously enough.

Russia is different. They can see how we treat them; they can see that we support nuclear power industries and peaceful nuclear applications; we have proposed a joint venture that will bring profit to them as well as to us. What to us is going to be a good nuclear market, to them is going to be an opportunity to see what a [nuclear enrichment] facility is and how it works. To build all the centrifuges and everything for just one nuclear reactor would be ridiculous. Right now, to build all this would be a waste of money because the return on such investment will come in a hundred years, if ever.

We told the Iranians that enrichment would be on the table as soon as they had plans for at least a dozen nuclear power plants, or NPPs. They asked me whether we could build in Iran something like a facility we had built in China. But China is not Iran -- they have diffusion and other facilities, they really need such things.

Q. Why would Tehran agree to build such a facility together with Russia?

A. I don't think a joint venture is interesting to them commercially right now; it is probably just a way to alleviate nuclear tensions that have been rising around Iran exponentially and to deny the Americans an opportunity to justify a military solution.

You know, the Americans have deployed over 100,000 personnel in neighboring Iraq; they have armor and air support and they have done everything to cross the border if required. ... I think the Iranians understand they need to keep Washington from doing this, at least for this spring. The Americans will hardly go to war in the scorching Iranian summer.

Q. The Americans might well opt for a missile strike instead....

A. Their missiles will come home to roost if they do it. Their task force in Iraq is already struggling, and imagine how dangerous their position will be if the Iranian army also launches an offensive. Iran may receive massive support from the broader Muslim world as well.

A possible option would be to ask Israel to strike [Iran], but they will not achieve anything because they do not know the exact locations and levels of protection. The recent American interest in penetrator munitions that would go off at 100-meter depths is far from accidental. These munitions have yet to be built, though.

In short, a missile strike would do the United States more harm than good. This helps explain their tolerance to our talks with Iran. I think the Iranians will agree to our proposals though the talks will take months, through March and April, at least, to delay Americans beyond the period of [climatic] conditions appropriate for military action.

Any delay is good for Iran. What would also be good for them is an opportunity to see how such facilities work. They will get an insight into our production lines, though, importantly, not into our centrifuge know-how.

Q. What could be Russia's role in helping solve Iran's "nuclear problem?'

A. Primarily, Russia could do it through a joint venture with Iran, providing services to everyone interested in nuclear power development but not interested in handling isotope enrichment.

Another question here is, I think, much more important. Even if there is restraint on military action, Iran may be subject to the so-called economic sanctions. If this country joins in, we will have to withdraw all our workforce from Iran and abandon all we did there, like we did in North Korea in the early 1990s. By then, we had built a research reactor there, thoroughly explored the territory to select a place for a nuclear power plant, and developed a broad personnel training effort.

Just two years after we had abandoned all this, the Americans created the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization with the United States, Japan, South and North Korea -- not Russia, mind you, and said, OK, we are here to build a water-cooled reactor. Now Russia is in the dark as to what is going on there. In fact, we have been thrown out of that market, though no one was ever going to transfer nuclear weapons or technology to North Korea, and no one was going to defy the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

What worries me is that preconditions for the same mistake are building here, in Iran. However, only fools repeat such mistakes; clever people never do that.

Q. How is Russia going to get Iranian guarantees that it will not seek a nuclear weapon?

A. Russia does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons and thinks that Tehran's nuclear desire should be restrained. But the ball is on America's side now; They need to decide whether they like Iran or not, to realize that they are dealing with an ancient historic world power that will not accept pressure and threats. It might take time, but what is needed is negotiations, however lengthy.

Only the United States is in a position to alleviate this tension. Weapons are not going to provide a solution; with weapons, things will be even worse than the current appalling situation in Iraq or Afghanistan. What kind of democracy are you going to get if democracy is exported through use of force?

Q. What if the Iranians reject Russia's offer?

A. They won't. However, I fear the Americans will press for sanctions even if they don't.

Q. But they surely cannot make the entire world impose sanctions if Iran accepts our proposal?

A. I am afraid they could. Remember North Korea. Almost everyone pandered to Washington then, and we did, special thanks to [former Sovet President]Mikhail Gorbachev.

Q. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will not necessarily do what Mikhail [Gorbachev] broke his back on.

A. He hopefully won't. However, Putin is also in a tight corner, and so is entire Russia. So far we have been picking up great windfalls from high oil and gas prices but let's think what happens if windfalls cease. What we have we clearly will not have forever. I believe in reason. Reason dictates that to start a war now would be a disgrace.

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