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    Central Asia
     Sep 22, 2007
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Russia bolsters ties with Iran
By M K Bhadrakumar

Relations between Russia and the United States will be put to the severe test in the coming weeks as there are growing signs that the US has decided, or has almost decided, to launch a military strike against Iran.

Russian observers do not rule out that the administration of US President George W Bush is yet to think through its policy on Iran, and the spate of media "leaks" keeps Tehran and the world community guessing. They analyze that a US military intervention

would become inevitable unless Iran relented in its regional policy in Iraq. It is inconceivable for the US to leave its Arab allies in the region to face Iran single-handed.

But then, Russian experts do not visualize that the US has reached anywhere near the point where it can claim the security situation has been stabilized and political reconciliation achieved, which would allow a complete withdrawal of troops. On the contrary, they see the situation in Iraq continuing to deteriorate.

Moscow would weigh that the real US agenda is aimed at "regime change" in Iran. Washington has more or less ensured that all military equipment (three aircraft-carrier battle groups) necessary for an air and sea strike against Iran are already in position in the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration has launched a concerted campaign for mobilizing domestic opinion in the US for an attack on Iran.

Bush has a new cockiness about him, and Moscow wouldn't be the only capital to notice. He has certainly lost his fear of the Democrat-dominated Congress on Capitol Hill. To be sure, he is step-by-step making a case for war. Commentator Patrick Buchanan wrote recently, "Confident of victory this fall on the Hill, Bush is now moving into Phase III in his 'war on terror': first Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Iran."

In Moscow's perception, therefore, the next two to three months will be most critical, even as Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enters a crucial phase.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to go ahead with his visit to Tehran on October 16, much to the chagrin of Washington. The visit is in connection with the summit of the Caspian states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran) that is to take place in Iran, but Putin is scheduled to hold "bilaterals" as well with the Iranian leadership. This will be Putin's first visit to Iran.

Russian stance unchanged
At a joint press conference with visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Moscow on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained the Russian position on the Iran nuclear issue. He made it clear at the outset that Moscow is second to none in insisting on preventing the nuclear non-proliferation regime from being violated by Iran.

In other words, Russia wouldn't countenance a "nuclear Iran". But having said that, Lavrov added that the problem has to be solved in accordance with international law. In other words, Moscow will reject any "unilateralism" on the part of Washington.

Second, Lavrov argued that the steps taken by the international community so far - in the direction of the IAEA board of governors' decisions and the United Nations Security Council decisions - have proved "effective". This is borne out by the fact that last month Iran and the IAEA agreed to address outstanding issues conclusively; the two sides elaborated their agreement in an appropriate document. Lavrov said that in Moscow's estimation, the implementation of this document is proceeding satisfactorily and "we want this process to conclude unimpeded".

Third, Lavrov spoke in strong support of the IAEA's professional capabilities and asserted, "We will rely upon the professional assessments of the experts from the IAEA." He added a punch line: "We remember well what ignoring the professional opinion of this agency [IAEA] led to in the situation vis-a-vis Iraq four years ago." He virtually anticipated the US strategy, which aims at discrediting the IAEA and sidelining it on the Iran issue, if not elbowing it out of altogether, so that the UN Security Council gets into the driving seat.

Fourth, Lavrov spoke emphatically against any military attack on Iran and instead stressed the "necessity to conduct negotiations in a persistent and consistent manner".

Fifth, what was most interesting about Lavrov's statement was that he revisited the big-power discussions last year leading to the creation of the so-called Five Plus One format. (This comprises the five permanent members of the Security Council - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the US - plus Germany.)
He recalled the understanding given by Washington at that time to Moscow and Beijing to the effect that the Security Council's involvement on the Iran issue would be with "a sole objective - to back the IAEA and ensure Iran's compliance with the IAEA".

Lavrov's message to the Bush administration was plain: "Do not arbitrarily shift the goalposts now."

Lavrov continued, "We remain committed to this original agreement on the understanding that the Security Council will not be forced to go beyond support of the IAEA." And, "The IAEA is now satisfied with the way Iran is implementing the accords on closing the outstanding issues on its nuclear file."

Lavrov in effect said nyet to Washington's latest move for tightening up the sanctions against Iran via yet another Security Council resolution. This echoed the statement attributed to an unnamed "senior Kremlin official in Moscow" a week earlier, who told The Financial Times of London, "As far as Iran's nuclear program is concerned, we have passed resolutions in the UN. So far, it's enough."

Finally, Lavrov criticized the move by the US and the European Union to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran. He reminded the Western capitals that the original understanding while forming the Five Plus One was to develop a comprehensive dialogue with Iran "not only resolving all aspects of Iran's nuclear program, but also on economic and commercial affairs and on regional security".

Lavrov added, "It was this kind of comprehensive approach that helped to unlock the situation surrounding the Korean nuclear program." (Under the February agreement, in exchange for North Korea's denuclearization and information on all its nuclear programs, the reclusive state will receive 950,000 tonnes of fuel oil for its thermal power-generating plants in addition to the 50,000 tonnes already delivered by South Korea for the closure of its only operational nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.)

If Kouchner's visit to Moscow was to persuade Russia to fall in line with the US move to introduce a new Security Council resolution, things didn't quite work that way. (Kouchner was scheduled to arrive in Washington on Friday; French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to visit Moscow on October 11-12.)

Russia couldn't be unaware that France is playing a double game. On the one hand, Sarkozy is closing ranks with the Bush administration's policies toward Iran. On the other hand, France is using US-French rapprochement to share the spoils of Iraq's oil wealth with US oil interests. France's Total and the United States' Chevron have agreed to collaborate on the Majnoon oilfields in Iraq.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote, "The building of a US-French consensus on Iraq is largely the result of the willingness of US oil interests to share the spoils with their European counterparts in exchange for their military and military backing of Washington's foreign policy in the Middle East." In the coming period, Moscow will have to factor the "trans-Atlantic partnership" in dealing with the Iran nuclear issue.

Moscow backs ElBaradei
Moscow is determined not to be party to Washington's attempt to

Continued 1 2 

Winning the next cold war (Sep 19, '07)

The new 'NATO of the East' takes shape (Aug 25, '07)

1. French warmongering aids Iran's cause 

2. US rate cuts: Like a blow to the head

3. US exceptionalism meets Team Jesus   

4. The rate pirate on the high debt sea 

5. US turns to China to influence Myanmar 

6. US backing the wrong Shi'ite horse  

7. Neo-cons have Syria in their sights

8. Either way, it could be an unkind cut

9. In the playground of the superpowers

10. Burning down Myanmar's Internet firewall 

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Sep 20, 2007)


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