China, Russia to help Iran build new nuclear facilities

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( – The Iran nuclear deal calls on Tehran’s negotiating partners to help develop its civil nuclear program, and longstanding allies Russia and China have wasted little time in offering to do so.

The head of Iran’s atomic energy organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Tuesday that Iran plans to move ahead with the construction of two new nuclear power plants, with the help of China, and two others with Russian assistance.

Tehran Times quoted him as saying the matter would be discussed further during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which begins on Friday. Xi will be the first world leader to visit Iran since the nuclear deal’s “implementation day” on Jan. 16, and the first Chinese leader to travel to Tehran in 14 years.

Even before implementation day, there were indications Russia would begin help shortly on two other nuclear plants, in line with an agreement first struck in late 2014. Salehi described those facilities as 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants, the Fars news agency reported.

Russia in 2013 completed work on a 1,000-megawatt reactor in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr – Iran’s first – and has pledged to help expand Iran’s nuclear program with up to eight new facilities.

(Bushehr was not one of the Iranian facilities deemed a major concern during the talks that delivered the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal last July. Those negotiations focused on an uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, a plutonium reactor at Arak, the Fordow underground enrichment facility near Qom, and a military site at Parchin where Iran was suspected to have carried out secret nuclear work with military applications.)

Beyond China and Russia, Salehi said several other countries, including Japan and South Korea, were also eager to get involved in civil nuclear projects, and portrayed the arrival of JCPOA implementation day as a new dawn for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Thanks [to] God Almighty, not only the conspiracy of the ill-wishers is foiled but also the ground is prepared for further development of Iranian nuclear industry activities,” he said.

“I strongly believe that Islamic Iran is today on the verge of making a historical move for growth and progress.”

The aim of the talks leading to the JCPOA was to curb attempts by the regime to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of its nuclear energy program – as Western experts and agencies suspected Iran had been doing.

In return for restrictions on its nuclear activities, the P5+1 negotiating group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – pledged to ease sanctions and release tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets. That relief begins now.

But another element of the JCPOA offers cooperation with Iran “in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”  The issue is dealt with in one of five annexes to the agreement, Annex III, in which the P5+1 countries agree to help Iran to develop its civil nuclear infrastructure.

This includes “nuclear power plants, research reactors, fuel fabrication, agreed joint advanced R&D such as fusion, establishment of a state-of-the-art regional nuclear medical center, personnel training, nuclear safety and security, and environmental protection.”

Controversially, the commitment to help Iran’s nuclear security includes a pledge “to strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against, and respond to nuclear security threats, including sabotage.”

The sabotage clause drew some criticism when the deal was first announced last summer.

Covert past attempts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability included the introduction of the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked the Natanz enrichment facility in 2010 – a clear case of sabotage,allegedly carried out by the U.S. and Israel in a bid to slow Iran’s nuclear advance.

— Written by Patrick Goodenough