Monday, October 24, 2005

USA and Iran Alternate in Moscow

Alexander Reuto, Jommersant:
Today, Moscow is hosting the talks between Russian top officials, including President Vladimir Putin, and the U.S. president’s national security advisor Stephen Hadley. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also arrives in Moscow today. He will meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The overlapping of the two visits is no accidental.

Washington is determined to convince Moscow that severe sanctions against Iran are necessary. Moscow, on the contrary, hopes to make Teheran compromise, which would deprive the United States of the reasons for anti-Iranian actions at the UN Security Council.

Washington is in a hurry. The Kremlin received the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice less than a week ago, and now Stephen Hadley, another top-ranking official from the U.S. administration, arrives in Moscow. The talks will focus again on the Iranian nuclear crisis and Washington’s determination to act promptly against the country. The States plans to start from imposing strict international sanctions by the UN Security Council. But Russia may stand in the way as it has quite a tangible financial interest in Iran. Moscow has been executing a multi-billion-dollar contract since 1990s constructing a nuclear power plant in Busher.

Meanwhile, it is the Iranian nuke program that Washington uses as an illustration of Teheran’s aggressive intentions. The United States is convinced that Iranians are developing nuclear weapons under cover of the nuclear energy projects. The evidence is Teheran’s unwillingness to fully cooperate with the IAEA and the breakdown of the negotiations between Iran and Euro 3 (the UK, Germany and France). Europeans tried to convince Iran to give up their programs on the uranium enrichment at nuclear facilities in Natanz. A couple of months ago, when the negotiations between the Euro 3 and Teheran were in full swing, Washington made it clear that it views the resumption of the enrichment in Natanz as the bottom line in the Iranian issue. Teheran disregarded that warning, though. Iranians claim that the Natanz plant is used to produce nuclear fuel. However, the experts agree that the plant’s facilities can be used to output the filing for nuclear charges.

Basing on the information of the intelligence, Washington believes that Iran will be able to produce nuclear charges in a year or two. At the same time, Iran is developing means to deliver these charges. Stephen Hadley will probably present the Russian authorities today with the information on Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction in an effort to persuade Moscow that if the international community does not take actions, a large part of the Russian territory will be soon at the aim of Iranian missiles.

Yet, Moscow is still skeptical about the American warning of the Iranian nuke threat. Russia likes to repeat that before the invasion in Iraq Washington also referred to its intelligence and scared the world with Saddam Hussein’s WMD which no one saw in the end. As yet, Russia seems to be even more active than Iran at defending the peaceful purpose of the country’s nuke program, and is coming up with initiatives that could shield Iran. For instance, as a compromise, Russia suggests that Teheran abandon the independent enrichment of uranium. Moscow is ready to set up a joint venture with Teheran in Russia, in exchange, to enrich uranium to supply the Iranian nuclear energy systems. The trouble is that Teheran has not been enthusiastic so far in the proposal and stands firmly on its right to produce nuclear fuel on its own.

Russia also hopes to get around Teheran to announce at least a partial cut in the uranium enrichment, for example a 50-70 percent, or even more. If the Iranians embrace the idea, Moscow is ready to promise Iran to expand the military and technical cooperation as a bonus, primarily, a deep modernization of the Iranian anti-missile aircraft system, as Kommersant learnt.

But still Russian experts admit that Iran’s half-and-half measures to cut the uranium enrichment will hardly be sufficient for the United States and the Euro 3 that has already lost patience. Consequently, sooner or later Teheran will have to agree to more drastic concessions, otherwise the situation will take a more dramatic turn. This idea will be a key one at the talks between the Russian authorities and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki who arrives in Moscow today. Russia does not expect a quick answer to its suggestion, since Mr. Mottaki is at the bottom of the Iranian power pyramid and does not take any decisions. On the other hand, Teheran does not have time to ponder since the Unites States is going to send the question of the Iranian nuclear program from the IAEA’s competence to the UN Security Council.

Until then, as Kommersant learnt, Moscow intends to convince Teheran to compromise. Igor Ivanov, the head of the Russian Security Council, will visit Iran in two or three weeks. He will have to ask the question point-blank: if Iran does not compromise, Russia will wash its hands of it, and then no one will prevent the United States from carrying out its plan of the settlement of the Iranian nuclear crisis. READ MORE

Washington, certainly, sees Russia’s financial interest in the Busher project and considers offering Moscow indemnity. Under the American scheme, Russia will back sanctions against Iran at the Security Council of the UN, but the resolution will mention that the embargo does not apply for the Russian project at the Busher nuclear power plant and Russian long-term plans to build other nuke power stations in Iran. Even if Stephen Hadley does not mention this at today’s talks, the Russian party might as well hint to Mr. Mottaki of this possible development of the events. So, by Igor Ivanov’s visit, Iranians may be already perfectly willing to crawfish.