Russia: Israel need not fear reactor

Teheran more pragmatic than you think, embassy officials tell ‘Post.’

Iran Reactor 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Iran Reactor 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israelis should not be concerned about the uranium fueling of a Russian-built nuclear reactor in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr that is set to take place on Saturday, diplomatic officials at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv told The Jerusalem Post.
The reactor’s fueling will be marked at a ceremony in Bushehr that will be attended by Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads Russia’s state nuclear agency, which has been building the power plant in Iran since the mid-1990s.
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The fuel that Russia will provide the reactor is expected to start producing electricity by November. Spent fuel rods from the facility are to be returned to Russia under monitoring from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to ensure that they are not diverted for military purposes.
“The Bushehr power plant is intended for energy for electricity,” a diplomatic official at the embassy said on Thursday. “From the beginning, the construction of the Bushehr facility was under strict control of IAEA inspectors, which we consider a guarantee that everything in Bushehr will be done according to international law.”
The diplomat said that had Iran’s nuclear program not been under international control, it could have been a threat not only to Israel but to the world. But because it is under international control, it is not a threat to anyone, he said.
Israelis have expressed fears about Iran using the fuel rods for military purposes after expelling international inspectors, but the diplomat said he was not a technical expert and could not comment about that possibility.
Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton warned this week that the IDF had until Saturday to attack the Bushehr facility, because once Russia loaded fuel into the reactor, Israel would no longer be willing to strike for fear of triggering widespread radiation.
Bolton noted that prime minister Menachem Begin made a point of authorizing the June 1981 attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor before it was loaded with nuclear fuel, to minimize the effects of radiation fallout from the reactor’s destruction on the civilian population.
The Russian diplomatic officials said the attack on the facility at Osirak, 18 km. southeast of Baghdad, was a violation of international law. They said there was no reason or basis for that strike, because there was no proof that Iraq was seeking to operate the reactor for military use.
“Israelis must understand the negative implications of Israel attacking Iran for the region and the world,” one of the diplomats said. “According to international law, it is absolutely prohibited to strike a facility that possesses nuclear fuel. There is no international threat to Israel from Bushehr, so there would be no purposes for Israel to bomb it.”
The diplomats said the Iranians were more pragmatic than Israelis gave them credit for and that they were not interested in a clash with the West. They stressed that Russia was fully cooperating with the fourth round of sanctions placed on Iran by the UN Security Council in June, including refraining from delivering S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that are on the list of weapons banned from being transferred to Iran.
“Russia borders Iran,” one of the diplomats said. “We are much closer to Iran than you are, and we do not have an interest in having a threat on our borders, so we don’t believe [Israelis] have to worry.”
Kiriyenko said at a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Bushehr would demonstrate that Iran was entitled to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under international supervision.
“It is a most important anchor which keeps Iran within the regime of non-proliferation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday.
“It is fully protected from any proliferation risks whatsoever.
This idea is shared by all the leaders of Western countries.”
The United States is arguing that the steps toward getting the Bushehr reactor up and running demonstrates that Teheran has no need to enrich uranium.
Many see the fueling as a dangerous advance in Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
But the US said it does not view the reactor as a proliferation risk, “because it will be under IAEA safeguards,” according to a State Department official.
The official also noted that Russia is not only providing the fuel but retrieving the spent fuel, the material that could be used to produce a nuclear bomb.
“Russia’s support for Bushehr underscores that Iran does not need an indigenous enrichment capability if its intentions are purely peaceful,” the official said.
“Our views on the Bushehr project should not be confused with the world’s fundamental concerns with Iran’s overall nuclear intentions, particularly its pursuit of uranium enrichment, and Iran’s willful violation of its international obligations,” the official added.
Hilary Leila Krieger in Washington and AP contributed to this report.