Saturday, April 22, 2006

Back from the dead

You know that on-again, off-again deal whereby Russia would enrich nuclear fuel for Iran? Well, apparently it's on again.

Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Saturday the Islamic republic had reached a "basic deal" with the Kremlin to form a joint uranium enrichment venture on Russian territory, state-run television reported.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency , "spoke of a basic agreement between Iran and Russia to set up a joint uranium enrichment firm on Russian soil," Iranian state television reported.

That's a pretty vague statement. A "basic agreement" is not the same thing as a specific and signed agreement. A lot of people think Iran used the possibility of such a deal as a delaying tactic the last time around, and they may well be doing the same thing here. As the story points out:

In February, Iran and Russia announced that they had reached a "basic agreement" to establish a joint uranium enrichment venture in Russian, but details were never worked out.

So we still need to hold Iran's feet to the fire. But if such a deal actually becomes a reality, it would be the best solution to the problem.

The next question then becomes ensuring that Iran dismantles its home-grown enrichment program. Ideally the best way to do that is with supervised demolition of the enrichment sites and equipment. But somehow I doubt Iran will agree to that. Expect the dispute to carry on for quite some time even if Iran and Russia seal a deal.

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