Reports emerged in mid-June that Russia had allowed an unknown quantity of high-strength aluminum to be shipped to Iran earlier this year. The shipment is of potential concern because certain special aluminum alloys can be used in high-speed gas centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, and the United States has long been concerned that Moscow’s nuclear energy ties with Teheran may be facilitating a clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program.
According to The Washington Post, which first reported the shipment June 15, the United States and Israel alerted the Russian government to the shipment in late January; however, Russian inspectors who boarded the vessel reported that the aluminum was to be used in “aircraft manufacture” and allowed the ship to proceed to Iran. In a June 17 interview with Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell responded with skepticism to Russia’s assertions that the aluminum was intended for aircraft. “That’s what they say,” he said. “We have slightly different view.”
President George W. Bush raised the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons and missile programs at his June 16 meeting in Slovenia with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the meeting, Putin acknowledged that he had discussed Iran with Bush, but in a June 18 interview with U.S. journalists, he maintained that there are no Russian programs to help Tehran produce nuclear weapons or missiles. Putin also defended Russia’s nuclear energy ties with Iran, comparing them to U.S. plans to build a light-water reactor in North Korea under the 1994 Agreed Framework. He also said that Moscow would do its best to stop any Russian entities trying to assist Iran’s nuclear weapons programs.
Aluminum alloys have many industrial and military uses, but the transfer of certain aluminum alloys is regulated by the Nuclear Suppliers Group—a group of 34 countries, including Russia, that have agreed to restrict the export of nuclear and dual-use equipment that could be used in connection with the manufacture of nuclear weapons.