WASHINGTON — The United States lost a long battle when Russia, as it announced on Monday, delivered nuclear fuel to an Iranian power plant that is at the center of an international dispute over its nuclear program. Iran, for its part, confirmed on Monday plans to build a second such plant.
In announcing that it had delivered the first fuel shipment to the power plant, at Bushehr in southern Iran, on Sunday, Russian officials said that while the fuel was in Iran, it would be under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear monitoring agency for the United Nations. Russia also said the Iranian government had guaranteed that the fuel would be used only for the power plant.
The Bush administration took pains not to criticize the Russian move publicly, even expressing support for outside supplies if that led Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program.
“If the Russians are willing to do that, which I support, then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich,” President Bush said Monday. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich.”
But from the American standpoint, the timing could not have been worse, coming just two weeks after the release of a United States intelligence estimate that concluded that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The National Intelligence Estimate also concluded that Iran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, undercutting a central tenet of the Bush administration’s basis for maintaining international pressure against Iran.
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