Leaked records indicate Russia secretly moved in 2006 to undermine activities at Iran's unfinished Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday (see GSN, May 18).
Then-Russian President Vladimir Putin approved efforts to deliberately slow down work on the facility, which Moscow had pledged 11 years earlier to finish building, an Israeli atomic official purportedly quoted Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Russian state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom, as saying. Russia had also agreed to supply nuclear material for the Iranian site that would be returned after use, Agence France-Presse reported.
In a discussion with then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, Israeli Atomic Energy Commission head Gideon Frank recounted his prior encounters with Kiriyenko as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, according to the documents reportedly obtained by the transparency organization WikiLeaks. The records were not accessible on the WikiLeaks or Yediot Aharonot websites, according to AFP.
Putin wanted to significantly hold up development of the Bushehr reactor, the leaked documents reportedly quote Frank as saying.
"Frank said that Kiriyenko had told him that he intended to delay the process of sending the nuclear rods to the reactor in Bushehr for an extended period of time and that he had no intention of supplying the reactor with 'fresh fuel' at the current stage," according to the Yediot report.
The Russian atomic official said "the Russians intended to explain the deliberate delay by means of 'technical problems,'" noting "Putin had personally ordered that deliberate delay in delivery," the Israeli news report says.
Frank said the officials from Moscow had assured him that "they had made changes to the hardware that they were supposed to send to the Bushehr reactor so as to slow down the Iranian nuclear program even further."
The United States, Israel and other countries suspect Iran's nuclear program is aimed at weapons development; Iran has insisted its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful.
Moscow last week indicated Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant would come completely online in a matter of weeks (see GSN, May 13). The site's opening has been postponed on numerous occasions; Tehran earlier this year said a technical problem with a reactor component would force the removal of fuel from the system (see GSN, March 2). Iran previously confirmed a computer worm had infected laptop computers belonging to Bushehr plant personnel, but it denied the malware had affected site operations (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, May 19).
Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency insiders believe Iran might have acquired information from agency portable computers and cellular telephones that could enable the Middle Eastern nation to retaliate against IAEA informants or conceal incriminating data, the Wall Street Journal reported. Inspectors from the U.N. watchdog organization routinely check Iranian nuclear facilities in an effort to ensure no sensitive materials are diverted for military use.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog is looking into whether Iranian operatives might have tampered with components in cellular phones belonging to its inspectors, said one diplomat with knowledge of the matter. That could enable Tehran to track calls or listen in on discussions conducted near the device.
Iran is seen as being more persistent than a number of other governments in seeking access to sensitive IAEA information, said the diplomat, who is familiar with the Vienna-based organization's data protection procedures. Nuclear inspectors are encouraged to take precautions against Iranian interference including mandatory encryption of data and avoidance of unnecessary external data drive use. Officials must switch off portable computers before they are taken into Iranian custody ahead of safeguards inspections (David Crawford, Wall Street Journal, May 19).
Elsewhere, Tehran berated the United States for blacklisting another Iranian bank on Tuesday for allegedly assisting other entities tied to the country's atomic efforts, Reuters reported.
"Americans try to exaggerate by using media as a propaganda tool. ... It is just psychological warfare and the media should not pay attention to such things," the Iranian Students' News Agency on Wednesday quoted Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini as saying. "Since the victory of the 1979 Islamic revolution, all the U.S. governments tried to impose their arrogant wills through various means, but they all failed," he said (Reuters, May 18).
Moscow's decision last year not to send Iran the S-300 air-defense system has negatively affected Russian-Iranian relations, the Fars News Agency on Wednesday quoted Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi as saying. Experts expressed concern that the system could have helped protect Iranian nuclear facilities from potential airstrikes (Fars News Agency, May 18).