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Russia Freezes Laser Deal With Iran

September 21, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia has frozen a deal to sell laser technology to Iran _ equipment the United States said could be adapted to a nuclear weapons program.

Yuri Bespalko, chief of the Atomic Energy Ministry’s press service, said Russia was suspending deliveries to Iran of laser technology for scientific and medical purposes.

``We think that the equipment meant for Iran does not fall under the limits of the international exports regime,″ Bespalko said Thursday. ``Nevertheless, the topic is sensitive, especially for the United States, and a decision has been made to give the issue more consideration.″

Iran maintains the technology it seeks from the Yefremov Scientific Research Institute of St. Petersburg would be used for peaceful purposes.

Boris Yatsenko, director of the Microtechnology Center at the Yefremov Institute, said his institute’s lasers were meant exclusively for scientific and medical purposes.

``This deal has a purely commercial purpose, but at the moment the deal is frozen and a special commission has been set up by the Atomic Energy Ministry to consider all the deal’s details,″ he said.

Officials in Washington said this week that they believe the laser technology could be used to split isotopes and was recognized internationally as sensitive nuclear technology.

Yatsenko said his institute’s lasers were not that powerful.

``Neither the Soviet Union nor Russia has ever developed laser technology to split uranium isotopes,″ he said. ``It is senseless to speak about the possibility of exporting such a laser technology, since nobody in the world has it.″

Bespalko said the deal could be revived if the Atomic Energy Ministry commission and U.S. government experts determine it would be impossible to use Russian lasers for military purposes.

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