On Monday, Russia announced it was sending 80 tons of uranium fuel to Iran to help that Islamist dictatorship build a "peaceful" nuclear reactor in Bushehr. Russia has an interest in building the power plant: It stands to gain $1 billion, since the plant is to be constructed by the Russian state-owned Atomstroyexport. Iran also has an interest in building a power plant: pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Meanwhile, the Bush administration stands by and does nothing.
Russia says it will insist Iran return all processed uranium that could be used to create nuclear bombs. "All fuel that will be delivered will be under the control and guarantees of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the whole time it stays on Iranian territory," explained Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. "All our processed fuel is to be returned, gram by gram. It can't be used for weapons under any circumstances. This is a fact of life." Russia says it believes Iran has no nuclear ambitions. "For us, the old information we got was that they didn't have a military program," said Karaganov. "Now it has been confirmed by the U.S. intelligence. Thank God, because it has ended speculation that the Americans are preparing a massive attack."
While Russia proclaims the Ayatollahs' peaceful intentions, Iran is more transparent. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to taunt the West, justifying the Iranian nuclear program as a necessary response to domestic oil shortage -- which is somewhat like China claiming a shortage of manpower.
President Bush responded to the Russian-Iranian deal with conciliatory words. "If the Russians are willing to do that -- which I support -- then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich," Bush stated at a speech in northern Virginia. "If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich."
There's only one problem: Russia isn't to be trusted.
Russia has an agenda of its own. For years, the Russians have strengthened bonds with our enemies. Just before the invasion of Iraq, Russia inked an enormous financial deal with Saddam Hussein. Russia does huge weapons business with Syria. And Russia's involvement with the Bushehr reactor dates back years.
Russia has two strong motivations to aid Iran: cash and nationalism. Iran provides the Russians with billions of dollars in income. And Russia sees itself as a power on the rise -- a potential challenger to the hegemony of the United States over the long haul.
Russia's suggestion that the West ought to sign off on the Bushehr reactor based on IAEA oversight is simply absurd. The IAEA has proved to be a hollow shell time and time again. Pre-invasion Iraq, Iran and North Korea have all barred IAEA inspectors on a regular basis.
The release of this month's National Intelligence Estimate, which claimed that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program, provided Russia with the opportunity it needed to openly contribute to the Iranian nuclear agenda. With the Bush administration hemmed in by domestic naysayers, Russia is now free to pursue its own goals in the Middle East.
Over five years ago, in August 2002, I penned these words: "We must act quickly in opposition to those countries that would constitute a new Russian sphere of influence: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and others. We cannot allow Moscow to ally with these countries, creating a new Russian satellite system." That warning went unheeded. We cannot continue to ignore Russia's rogue nationalism. There is a bear in the woods again.