Iran and Bushehr

Just wanted to add a little to a “good post”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1444/policy-changes-podvig-on-russia-and-bushehr from Jane about the Bushehr project. Specifically, I think that discussions of Russian motivations for completing the reactor frequently ignore Russia’s desire to maintain/establish its reputation as a reliable nuclear supplier for -countries other than Russia- potential customers outside of Iran.

As Pavel Podvig says in the “_BAS_ column”:http://www.thebulletin.org/columns/pavel-podvig/20070326.html that Jane cites:

*Rosatom most likely understands that abandoning Bushehr now would deal a serious blow to its reputation as a commercial partner.* In this situation, resorting to delays and hoping that the situation will somehow resolve itself is the only option.

I think there’s a lot to this…I first thought of it when I heard Vladimir Orlov’s “presentation”:http://www.carnegieendowment.org/static/npp/2005conference/2005_conference.htm#Iran at the most recent Carnegie conference. He didn’t make the supply credibility argument but did point out that the project isn’t worth all that much to Russia:

bq. Economically, we are not gaining much from nuclear cooperation with Iran. I’m sorry, but the numbers, the amounts we were discussing about only Bushehr content are much lower than they were publicized. And probably in the mid-90s that was something not of little importance for the Russian impoverished ministry of atomic energy. Currently, the situation in Russia and its economic growth is quite different, so actually what we got from Iran economically from Bushehr is not that much attractive.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Jane’s argument that Russia has already done a few things to damage its reputation as an energy supplier:

bq. Russia’s cut off of gas to Ukraine in January 2006 and of oil through Belarus in January 2007 has partners hesitating in relying too much on Russia in the future. Regardless of whose fault these dispute really were, Russia clearly has the capacity and the will to cut off very significant energy flows in times of disagreement.

This is in the context of fuel supply, rather than reactor construction, but it’s a good point.

Orlov, BTW, added this amusing anecdote:

bq. …[a] senior Russian official once asked – I think in the 101st time – but what finally Russia feels about nuclear cooperation with Iran. Are you still partners? He was probably so exhausted with that question, he said, oh yes. We, of course, are partners with Iran. From the times of Mr. Griboyedev, we are partners with Iran. And of course, without the context, it could be difficult to understand what it means. The context was simple. Mr. Griboyedev is a famous Russian poet of the 19th century who was also diplomat decapitated by Mog in Teheran. So we are of course strategic partners, but with some footnotes, right?

Happy Friday.

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