The Last Word: Sergei Kiriyenko

Sergei Kiriyenko may hold the key to re-solving the Iranian nuclear crisis. The former Russian prime minister and the head of RosAtom, the Russian nuclear agency, will meet a delegation from Tehran this week to discuss a proposed deal whereby Moscow would provide Iran with enriched uranium for its nuclear plants, including a Russian-built reactor at Bushehr. Tehran

originally rejected the plan, but with possible Security Council action looming, has recently revived its prospects. NEWSWEEK's Owen Matthews spoke with Kiriyenko, who hopes the deal will also bolster Russia's profitable nuclear industry, in Moscow. Excerpts:

Russia has already made one agreement with Iran to return their spent nuclear fuel to Russia. That guarantees that no plutonium can be extracted from the fuel. Second, we've put a proposal on the table to jointly create an enterprise for enriching uranium on Russian territory. The conditions of such a joint venture would be that Iran would contribute to its funding. In return it [will have] guaranteed supplies of enriched uranium--but not access to enrichment technology. So we will take uranium, enrich it here and send [the Iranians] ready fuel. And after it's been used, we take it back. That means that we keep control of two of the most sensitive technological stages. Thus there will be no danger that the development of atomic energy in Iran--or in any other country--will become a proliferation threat.

The proposal is on the table. Our talks are at the stage of concrete legal, technical and financial details. For our part, Russia is completely ready to create such an enrichment enterprise--we have the plant locations for it and a draft contract. We are ready technologically, financially and organizationally. Our offer's terms are clear and open to the international community. To accept it or not is up to Iran, and I can't tell you what they will say.

I don't think it's a question of believing. International security and international law cannot be based on personal trust. We think that any country in the world which conforms to international norms and is inspected by the IAEA has the right to develop atomic energy. Period. No one has the right to deny anyone else that right. At the same time, Russia's attitude to Iran, or to any other country, is that they are categorically not allowed to violate the principles of nonproliferation. We believe that the proposals made by Russia today allow a resolution to the Iranian problem.

Those countries which do not have nuclear-energy programs want access to cheap energy. Not to let them have access to cheap energy is a violation of international law. It's discrimination. Our position is that we have to help these countries escape from energy poverty--but at the same time it is our responsibility to prevent any threat of nuclear proliferation. We need to establish some kind of ground rules for dealing with these situations. Otherwise we will have situations like we have with Iran with other countries. It's the responsibility of countries with a full nuclear fuel cycle to agree on a coordinated structure, not just to find a solution on a case-by-case basis.

[Russian President] Vladimir Putin made a suggestion for four kinds of international cooperation: the creation of international uranium-enrichment centers of the sort we have proposed to Iran; international centers for reprocessing and storing spent nuclear fuel; centers for training and certifying nuclear-power-plant staff, and to have an international research effort to find new nuclear-energy technologies which are proliferation resistant. Many of those ideas were echoed by the president of the United States.

These international centers must be just that--international. It would be very good if the United States could provide such centers on its territory. There are several other countries [that] could participate, too. That way, potential users of nuclear energy would have a choice.