|Russia steadfast on
By Sergei Blagov
MOSCOW - Russia's insistence on its
nuclear ties with Iran has gained momentum, as
major European powers have announced that they
have no contradiction with it.
has claimed that Iran's nuclear program should not
be viewed as a threat. "I do not see any
connection between Iran and the problem of nuclear
weapons non-proliferation," the head of Russia's
Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev,
said on Tuesday.
Iran continues to insist that
it is not developing nuclear weapons - the US
believes it is. "The Islamic republic has
repeatedly announced Iran is not seeking weapons
of mass destruction," Foreign Ministry spokesman
Hamid-Reza Asefi said this week, and added that
Iran's nuclear program was non-military.
The remarks came in the wake of a
declaration made during a summit of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques
Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez
Zapatero in Paris. The leaders announced that
there was no contradiction between the Europeans'
measures in nuclear talks with Iran and Russia's
nuclear aid to Tehran.
Putin said Russia's
cooperation with Iran was conditional on the
transparency of Tehran's policies, its respect of
International Atomic Energy Agency decisions and
its renunciation of any nuclear military program.
"Russia ships fuel and takes it back,"
Schroeder said. "The fuel is not processed, nor is
it enriched and cannot be enriched in Iran," he
said with Putin by his side. Chirac said, "There
is no contradiction between the Russian position
and the position which Britain, Germany and France
[EU-3] are jointly negotiating."
EU-3 are negotiating with Iran to come to an
agreement that it will not use its atomic energy
program to acquire nuclear weapons. In exchange,
the three European governments are offering a
package of trade, security and technology
incentives. For the time being, the US is going
along with this process, although it remains
The Europeans were so
eager for easy talks with Putin that they made
Iran look like a point of agreement, instead of
one that has long troubled Russia's relations with
the West, the Russian official RIA Novosti news
have been negotiating for the EU with Iran since
December to secure "objective guarantees" that the
regime will not use its atomic energy program
to acquire nuclear weapons. However, the
European Union's three biggest powers ended a new round
of talks with Iran in Paris on Wednesday without persuading
Tehran to stop its controversial nuclear program.
reaffirmed strongly on Tuesday that it
will pursue a full-scale nuclear program, from
mining uranium to enriching it and also building a
heavy-water reactor that can produce plutonium.
"The people and government of Iran are determined
to open their way through the tortuous path of
peaceful use of nuclear technology despite all
imposed restrictions and difficulties," said
Mohammad Saeidi, vice president of the Atomic
Energy Organization of Iran.
Nonetheless, the Kremlin remains keen to strengthen
its partnership with Tehran. In February, Putin,
at a meeting in Moscow with visiting
Iranian secretary of the Iranian National
Security Council, Hasan Rouhani, reiterated
Russia's readiness to develop cooperation with Iran.
Putin also accepted an invitation to visit Tehran
Russia has been going ahead
with the controversial nuclear deal with Iran. On
February 27, Iran and Russia finally signed a
nuclear fuel supply agreement. Iranian Vice
President Gholamreza Aghazadeh and the head of
Russia's Atomic Energy Agency, Alexander
Rumyantsev, inked an agreement at the Bushehr
nuclear plant in southern Iran. Under the deal
Iran has to return spent nuclear fuel from the
reactor. Tehran agreed to sign the deal after long
disputes. "Our cooperation with Iran is completely
in accordance with international regulations and
we have not violated any law," Rumyantsev said.
years, the Kremlin has resisted US pressure and
declined to limit ties with Iran. In March 2001,
Putin and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami signed
a cooperation treaty. Subsequently, in October
2001, Moscow and Tehran signed framework agreements
for US$300 million to $400 million
a year in the form of Russian military supplies
to Iran, including spare parts for
Russian-made weapons, new fighter jets and possibly
air-defense, ground-to-ground and anti-ship systems.
Presumably because of its reliance on
Russian arms, Tehran has sounded defiant. On Wednesday,
Iranian Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamenei pledged
to defend his country if attacked. He denounced
the US and vowed he was ready to lead his nation
to war. Khamenei says the US has been fabricating
"pretexts" to block Iran's development.
Incidentally, this month Ukraine
admitted that it exported 12 Russian-made long-range
cruise missiles to Iran in 2001. The X-55, also
termed AS-15, was designed to carry a 200-kiloton
nuclear warhead with an estimated range
of more than 3,000 kilometers. Like the US Tomahawk
cruise missile, the AS-15 is designed to fly at a
low altitude. The AS-15 operated from long-range
If AS-15 missiles
become operational, Iran will be in striking
distance of all Middle East states as well as many
countries in Europe. Iran currently does not have
large strategic bombers designed to launch the
AS-15. Even if launched from Iranian territory,
the AS-15 could still hit any country in the
Middle East, including Israel, as well as US
forces stationed in the region.
The US and
Israel both accuse Iran of seeking to develop
nuclear weapons. Washington has not ruled out
military options to prevent Tehran of acquiring
the bomb should diplomacy fail.
However, despite repeated media allegations
of otherwise, Israel ruled out preventive
military action against Iran. Israel has no intention
of launching a strike against Iranian
nuclear installations, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly
said on Tuesday during talks with a visiting delegation
from US Congress.
Britain's Sunday Times reported that Israel had
drawn up plans for a combined air and ground
attack on Iranian nuclear sites should diplomatic
efforts fail to halt Tehran's alleged nuclear
program. Sharon's inner cabinet gave "initial
authorization" for an attack at a private meeting
in February, the weekly said. US Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice said immediately that
Washington had not sanctioned any Israeli military
strike against Iranian nuclear sites.
Putin is due to travel to Israel on April
27-28, where he will probably aim, among other
things, at defusing tensions over Iran's nuclear
Sergei Blagov covers Russia
and post-Soviet states, with special attention
to Asia-related issues. He has contributed
to Asia Times Online since1996. Between
1983 and 1997, he was based in Southeast Asia.
In 2001 and 2002, Nova Science Publishers, New
York, published two of his books on Vietnamese
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