People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 26, 2010


Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Reactor Commissioned


Yohannan Chemerapally


IT was a wait that lasted more than four decades, Iran has with Russian help finally got the Bushehr nuclear reactor officially commissioned in mid-August. It will take another two months for the country’s first nuclear power plant to start generating electricity. Work had first started on the Bushehr plant way back in 1974 with the help of the Federal Republic of Germany. But after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the imposition of sanctions by the US, the Germans withdrew from the project. Iran had then approached many countries including India for help in completing the project, which was in complete compliance with the NPT. It was only in 1995 that Russia agreed to step in, despite tremendous pressure from the West, to help in completion of the long stalled project. Iran has now become the 33rd member of the world’s civilian nuclear club and the first country in West Asia to posses a nuclear reactor.


The IAEA has certified that the Bushehr Reactor is entirely for peaceful purposes. The neo-conservatives in the US and government of Israel have been crying hoarse that with the commissioning of the Bushehr reactor, Iran is well on its way to become a nuclear power. The former Bush administration senior official, John Bolton, had recently called on Israel to bomb the Bushehr plant. The IAEA has said that no nuclear fuel is being diverted to Iran’s nuclear program, which Teheran has been insisting anyway is for peaceful purposes. The Bushehr Plant only has a lightwater reactor. It is very difficult for plutonium of weapons quality to be extracted from the spent fuel of a light water reactor. Russia while providing the nuclear fuel is also committed to taking back the spent fuel. This was done to allay the West’s fear that Teheran may misuse the light water reactor produced plutonium.




Even after the Russian company stepped in to start work at Bushehr in 1998, there were considerable delays, triggered mainly by political pressure emanating from the West. Moscow on several occasions backtracked on deadlines and the delivery of nuclear fuel. Eventually, the Kremlin seems to have made a calculated decision that Russian national interests would be better served by completing the Bushehr nuclear plant. Russia stuck to its commitments despite the “reset” in relations with the US, after Barack Obama became the president. In recent months there have been a few angry exchanges between Moscow and Teheran after the passage of the latest UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. The Iranian leadership made it abundantly clear that they were upset with both Moscow and Beijing for supporting the draconian sanctions imposed on their country.


Iran is one of Russia’s key trading partners. The volume of trade between the two countries is projected to exceed $5 billion by the end of the year. The two countries are currently involved in negotiations involving more that 130 joint ventures that could raise the volume of bilateral trade to $200 billion. Many of the projects are connected to oil and gas. In a 2008 agreement with Iran, Russia’s Grazprom was given the rights to develop gas fields, build refineries and participate in the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.

Iran is the third biggest client of Russian weaponry after China and India. In the last couple of years, Russia has sold around $10 billion in weaponry.


In 2005, Moscow had agreed to sell S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. In 2007, another agreement was signed to sell SA-15 surface to air battery systems along with 30 air defense missile systems for safeguarding the Bushehr nuclear plant. Moscow has however temporarily suspended the sale of some categories of surface to air missile defense systems to Iran in the wake of the new UN Security Council sanctions. But Teheran is not complaining too much after Moscow gave up on its last minute hesitation under pressure from the West and delivered the fuel for the Bushehr reactor.


Speaking at the inaugural ceremony at Bushehr, the head of Russia’s Nuclear Corporation, Sergei Kiriyenko, said that countries that abide by the IAEA rules have the right to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The head of Iran’s nuclear agency, Ahmad Salehi, described the commissioning of the nuclear plant as “a political victory” for his country, He said that despite all the political pressures and sanctions, Iran’s peaceful nuclear program has received a boost. The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said that Iran has the right under the NPT to enrich its own uranium to pursue its peaceful nuclear program. Early this year, the Iranian government had announced that it plans to produce 20 per cent grade highly enriched uranium. Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is solely geared at producing electricity.    


As the Iranians were celebrating the opening of the Bushehr Plant, the Obama administration was working overtime to convince Iran’s major trading partners and traditional friends to start implementing the draconian sanctions envisaged in the latest UN Security Council resolution and later on enhanced by Washington. Senior US officials were sent to key Latin American and Asian countries to push for the implementation of the Security Council resolutions. They warned that Banks in countries like Brazil, India, the UAE, South Korea and Japan risked losing access to the US financial system if they continued to do business with their Iranian counterparts.


A new US government report has listed 22 countries which continue to maintain strong economic links with Iran, despite the UN Security Council sanctions. The US and the EU have imposed more stringent sanctions than the ones already there in the June Security Council resolution. The US report singles out India as being the state that allows companies to do the most business with Iran. The other important countries that have been singled out for criticism in the report are Russia and China. The Indian external affairs minister, S M Krishna, had said the kind of sanctions the Obama administration wants the government to implement would have “a direct and adverse impact on Indian companies and more importantly on our energy security”.




Under American pressure, many Indian companies like Reliance, have already ceased operations in Iran. UN sanctions or American laws are not meant to be automatically obeyed by states. The Indian government’s decision to keep on talking with the Iranians on the gas pipeline deal seems to have irritated the Obama administration. There have been suggestions from Washington that India can give up its hopes of occupying a permanent seat in the UN Security Council if it continues to do business with Teheran. The new American sanctions law gives the American president the authority to open an investigation on the “basis of credible evidence” that a company is investing in Iran’s energy sector. Stuart Levey, the US treasury department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence and the pointman on Iran , said recently that “it is incumbent upon governments to put into place appropriate mechanisms” to implement the UN as well as the even more tougher US/EU sanctions, which prohibit investment in Iran’s oil and gas sectors.


It is unlikely that US arms-twisting will have a significant impact on the policies of important countries. Turkey, which along with Brazil, had made a concerted attempt to block the ill-conceived June UN Security Council resolution, has already conveyed to Washington, that it would not be adhering to the new sanctions regime unilaterally proclaimed by the Obama administration. Turkey in fact stepped in to sell 1.2 million barrels of gasoline to Iran in June. This was at a time when most other countries refused to sell refined petrol to Iran, fearful of repercussions from Washington. Due to sanctions imposed by the West, Iran is woefully lacking in refining capacity and hence the demand for refined petroleum products from other countries.


Meanwhile Iran, buoyed by the commissioning of the Bushehr reactor, has once again renewed its offer for talks on the basis of the “nuclear swap deal” it signed with Brazil and Turkey. Teheran has called on the Vienna Group to start talks expeditiously. The Vienna Group which consists of the US, Russia, France and the IAEA, has now approved of the Turkey-Brazil-Iran Declaration as a basis for negotiations. In the Declaration, Iran had offered to dispatch 2,500 kg of its 3.5 enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for the 20 per cent enriched uranium it would receive from the West to be used as fuel for a scientific reactor situated near Teheran. The US state department spokesman said in the last week of August that Washington is hopeful that talks between the P-5+1 which consists of the five permanent Security Council members along with Germany and Iran would start “in the next few weeks”.


But the “carrot and stick” policy being adopted by the West against Iran continues. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, beating the war drums, warned Teheran that a failure to reach a “credible agreement” on its nuclear program, would force “world powers to mobilise again” to defend the security of Iran’s neighbours. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an American television network “that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons is unacceptable” and that the US has contingency plans to attack the country at short notice. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini once again reiterated in the third week of August that any talks with the US will only take place after Washington gives up “on sanctions and threats” against Teheran.