Reuters: Germany has detained several men suspected of buying technology for a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Iran, opening the door to a diplomatic feud between the European Union and Russia, Western diplomats said.
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, May 19 (Reuters) – Germany has detained several men suspected of buying technology for a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Iran, opening the door to a diplomatic feud between the European Union and Russia, Western diplomats said.
Diplomats familiar with the case said the arrests had infuriated Russia, which complained to members of the U.N. Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee. That panel oversees compliance with the punitive measures imposed on Tehran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program.
The dispute highlights the gulf between countries like Russia and China, which have continued to do business with Iran despite three rounds of U.N. sanctions and a possible fourth round in the works, and Western powers, which have been quietly making it increasingly difficult to trade with Tehran.
One European diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the businessmen were detained at a German airport by the customs police on suspicion of violating a ban on the export of sensitive “dual-use” technology to Iran.
The arrested men are German nationals working for a German firm. The diplomat declined to name the firm and it was not immediately clear how many men were detained or what items they had purchased for the Bushehr plant.
The diplomats said the detained Germans were acquiring equipment on behalf of Russia and its Bushehr light-water nuclear power reactor in Iran, scheduled to open in August.
The first U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran, passed in 2006, exempted technology for light-water reactors like Bushehr, which are seen as less of a proliferation risk than heavy-water reactors, the spent fuel from which is rich in bomb-grade plutonium.
But the European Union’s own internal directives on implementing U.N. steps against Iran go further than the U.N. sanctions resolutions and do not exempt the Bushehr reactor, which was why Germany arrested the men, diplomats said.
“It may be allowed under Security Council resolutions, but it’s not allowed under EU rules,” a European diplomat told Reuters. “Perhaps Russia wasn’t aware of it.”
LAVROV: NO ‘ONE-SIDED’ SANCTIONS
Russia has been annoyed at what it sees as unilateral steps. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that states under U.N. sanctions “cannot under any circumstances be the subject of one-sided sanctions imposed by one or other government bypassing the Security Council.”
Iran says its atomic program is aimed at generating electricity, not developing arms, as Western powers suspect.
The five permanent Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — along with Germany have agreed on a new draft U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran. The U.S. delegation presented it to the full 15-nation council on Tuesday.
The draft resolution was diluted from earlier U.S. and European proposals that called for much more draconian measures against Tehran that were unacceptable to Russia and China.
If the resolution is approved next month, as the U.S. and EU delegations hope, diplomats say the EU will likely use it as a basis for implementing even tougher steps that go beyond voluntary U.N. calls for vigilance on trade with Iranian banks, shipping firms, the Revolutionary Guards and other entities.
Diplomats say that approach to the three previous sanctions resolutions has helped put a stranglehold on Iran’s nuclear, missile, banking and other industries.
Nuclear security expert David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and current head of the Institute for Science and International Security think tank, said Germany might be trying to send a message to Russia that it needs to be more aggressive in implementing the U.N. sanctions against Tehran.
“Perhaps Germany is pushing back on Russia’s unwillingness to enforce the sanctions on dual-use technology for Iran,” Albright said.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s U.N. mission said she could neither confirm nor deny the diplomats’ assertions. Russia’s U.N. mission also declined to comment. (Editing by Peter Cooney)