Iran’s top nuclear official on Tuesday accused western countries of trying to disturb the Islamic regime’s relations with Russia, in an indication of the country’s concerns that major powers might be getting more united than before.
“Our work [in the Bushehr nuclear plant] is going ahead very well with Russia, but westerners are trying to fan mis-understandings because they do not want to see Iran and Russia having good political relations,” Ali-Akbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation told reporters.
Mr Salehi only referred to the Bushehr plant – which is being constructed by Russia – without giving any details on what kind of differences the west was allegedly creating between the two countries.
The US and other western powers have been encouraging Russia to harden its stance on Iran’s nuclear programme. Barack Obama, US president, last week warned that unless Tehran relent on its nuclear ambitions that new sanctions could be proposed within weeks.
Western diplomats say Russia is now less patient than before with Iran after Tehran first accepted, and then appeared to reject, the latest nuclear proposal in which Moscow had a central role.
According to the proposal supported by six major powers – US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – Iran had to send two-thirds of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and then France to be enriched at higher grade.
Iran says it needs uranium enriched at 20 per cent for medical purposes.
“Russia is more and more upset with Iran after Iran’s brutal rejection of the nuclear proposal which was based on a Russian proposal in which Moscow itself was supposed to play a significant role,” said a senior western diplomat. “The regime took the risk of upsetting Russia which is less compromising than before.”
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Moscow was “not completely happy” with Iran and warned that “other means” could be employed if the nuclear talks did not produce results.
Iran insists it has not rejected the nuclear proposal rather it needs guarantees that it would certainly receive higher enriched uranium.
Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, said on Tuesday that “objective guarantees” were needed, or else Iran would consider “other options” to get the fuel needed for a Tehran research reactor.
It was not clear if Mr Jalili meant Iran would buy uranium from other countries or would start enriching at the 20 per cent it says it needs.
Western diplomats interpret such comments as meaning that the regime has decided to rule out any compromise which would then open the way for tightening of sanctions as the next step. They expect Russia – which has in the past vetoed harsher action against Tehran – to be more co-operative this time to impose punitive measures against Iran.
Iranian analysts believe Russia has been using two levers of pressures against Iran: constant delays in finishing the Bushehr plant which will have a capacity to produce 1,000 MW of electricity and not delivering a missile defence system, which Tehran desperately needs to protect its nuclear installations.
“Bushehr won’t be completed,” said the senior western diplomat.
“The Zionist lobby and the US pressure have forced Russians not to meet their commitments” in delivering Iran the missile system, brigadier general Mohammad-Hassan Mansourian, a senior commander of the army’s air defence said on Tuesday.
He added that Iran could take legal action against Moscow in international courts because of its failure so far to meet “a formal agreement”.