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Outside View: Russia settles Bushehr row

By PYOTR GONCHAROV, UPI Outside View Commentator

MOSCOW, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Russia and Iran may set up a joint venture to run the Bushehr nuclear power plant and ensure its safety.

"We have agreed a time-frame with the Iranian customer for completing the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Difficulties with the Iranian customer have been settled. We'll be able to give an exact time-frame for completing the plant's construction and its commissioning in late December," said Sergei Shmatko, president of the Atomstroyexport nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly.

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Russia has also pledged to supply nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant six months before commissioning.

More importantly, Shmatko said that Russia and Iran could set up a joint venture to run the Bushehr station and "ensure its safety."

The establishment of such a venture may solve many, if not all, problems created by the project, such as control of the low-enriched uranium Russia will supply to Iran, and return to Russia of nuclear fuel wastes comprising highly enriched uranium, which can be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

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The two problems that especially worried the international community have been solved now because Russia has pledged to guarantee that Iran's nuclear program is transparent and peaceful.

The idea of a joint venture with Iran has been in the grapevine for a long time, but Tehran revived and buried it several times.

The situation has apparently changed. Shmatko said: "The Iranian customer and the Russian contractor have come to terms on the current problems and deadlines, and agreed to abide by them." This will serve as "an instrument for maintaining normal dialog between Iran and the international community" on Iran's nuclear program.

It was most likely Iran who set the tune at the talks. The euphoria inspired by the allegedly positive report of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the undoubtedly positive evaluation of Iran's nuclear program in the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published Dec. 3 is giving way to a sober assessment of the situation.

Tehran knows that sanctions can still be imposed on it and that the international community will demand in February 2008 that Iran curtail its uranium-enrichment program.

The Kremlin will be unable to help this time, in particular because Russia and China signed the December 2006 and March 2007 U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran stop all kinds of uranium enrichment projects.

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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently said: "We have some tactical differences with Russia, in particular, and to a certain extent, China, about timing, about the nature of any further sanctions" against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

It is indicative that China has been given the "supporting role" this time, because recently Moscow has been fighting alone to gain time for Iran.

Russia has prepared the required fuel for the Bushehr power plant. The IAEA has inspected it jointly with the Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom, on schedule and has sealed the containers for delivery to Iran. The fuel will be dispatched when "there is the technological need for it, and when proper instructions are issued," Shmatko said.

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(Pyotr Goncharov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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