Nuclear Politics: Russia’s refusal to send fuel to Iran for nuclear enrichment

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Nuclear Politics: Russia’s refusal to send fuel to Iran for nuclear enrichment pulls the rug out from under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions. A sign Russia’s finally getting serious?

Iran was right on the cusp of completing its Bushehr nuclear reactor, a $1 billion project under construction since the days of the Shah.

But something happened in the past two weeks as Ahmadinejad prepared to celebrate — Russia suddenly announced it would halt the last bit of construction of the 97% complete project because Iran wasn’t paying its bills.

Now Russia’s Security Council Secretary, Igor Ivanov, reportedly has told diplomats that Russia won’t send fuel to Iran either unless it stops nuclear enrichment for weapons production.

Russia’s since backtracked slightly, saying the fuel halt is only related to Iran’s deadbeating. But Iran vigorously denies it’s missing payments and threatens to make public its bank statements that show them.

It’s no big deal to the West either way. If Russia wants to save face for its involvement in this commercial nuclear project and its defense of Iran’s nuclear arms program, what’s important is that it has come to its senses about what it has been supporting before it’s too late.

Russia has since withdrawn its 2,000 technicians, engineers and specialists from the Bushehr project, U.S. and European diplomats say, and it risks losing a $1 billion contracted payment for a project it has worked on since 1995.

Nevertheless, a new willingness to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands enhances Russia’s stature.

Russia has gone public about its Iran estrangement, which probably means it’s serious. It’s always difficult to read Russia’s motives or forecast its moves, but at a bare minimum, a public announcement means that a move backward would cost Russia its credibility.

U.S. officials say they’re somewhat baffled by Russia’s positive moves. ‘We are not sure what mix of commercial and political motives are at play here,’ said a Bush administration official in Washington.

Nevertheless, the groundwork for the squeeze on Iran probably was based on the U.S.’s quiet diplomacy, which seems to finally be working.

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