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    Middle East
     Dec 15, 2006
Page 1 of 2
Russia softens stance on Iran 'smart' sanctions

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

As the year winds down to a close, the United Nations Security Council's move to adopt a resolution that will impose "smart sanctions" on Iran aimed at a travel ban and freezing the assets of some 23 entities involved in Iran's nuclear program is the clearest indication yet that Iran's diplomacy is not working.

Immediate measures to address the various shortcomings of this diplomacy, including the avoidable, self-inflicted wounds, are

called for. Otherwise the risks to Iran's national interests will only grow.

Concerning those risks, it comes as no surprise that on the day when President Mahmud Ahmadinejad addressed a conference on the Holocaust and reiterated his call for Israel to be wiped out, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally let the cat out of the bag by making a veiled nuclear threat in a supposed "slip" of the tongue that was more likely a calculated move on his part.

Olmert stated: "Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when you are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?"

Interestingly, while Moscow has called Olmert's comments "irresponsible", no one in Washington, London or Paris has uttered a word of criticism, focusing their energy instead on castigating Iran's president for his anti-Israel statements.

This was led by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who only last week prodded President George W Bush to engage Iran diplomatically. Expressing his disgust at the gathering of "Holocaust deniers", including an American, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, in Tehran, Blair's new line is: "When I look at the region ... everything that Iran does is negative."

Echoing Blair, Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel has also gone on the offensive, stating categorically that "Iran must never get the bomb ... That is why the time has come ... not just to think about, but to work on sanctions". The fact that Russia is now on board at the Security Council means that it is now just a matter of time before the preliminary sanctions are imposed on Iran.

A survey of the Russian press indicates that Ahmadinejad's radical brand of politics has made it all but impossible for Russia to resist the combined US-European Union pressure to overcome its objections to sanctions on Iran.

Whereas a mere six months ago Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov categorically objected to any sanctions on Iran, today that firm position has wilted considerably to a verbal objection to "blanket sanctions". Expressing his enthusiasm for the draft resolution, Lavrov told Interfax: "The new draft does not provide for blanket sanctions."

Last week in Brussels, Lavrov expelled any fear that Russia would sabotage the proposed sanctions, stating that Moscow now supported a ban on deliveries of technology and material related to Iran's uranium-enrichment program: "We find it necessary to approve a proposal on the prevention of deliveries of such technology, material and services to Iran."

The slow yet steady evaporation of Russia's opposition to sanctions on Iran, predicted by this author in earlier articles, was actually sealed by President Vladimir Putin and Bush last month, when both leaders instructed their respective officials to "coordinate their activities" regarding the proposed sanctions on Iran. This move was interpreted as nothing short of Russia's "betrayal" of Iran by certain pundits in Tehran, who have cited the US support for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization as a reward for Moscow toeing the line on Iran.

Be that as it may, various Russian analysts have written that Iran's own "anti-diplomacy" is partly responsible for such developments, now threatening the expensive Russian-built power plant in Bushehr, in spite or reassuring words by the head of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Sergei Kiriyenko, in his recent visit to Tehran. "Russia sees no political obstacle in the completion of the Bushehr power plant ... We shall do it as quickly as possible from the technical point of view."

To many Iranians, Kiriyenko's assurance rings hollow, as they have heard it repeatedly over the past seven years, in light of the repeated delays in the completion of a project that was initially slated for grand opening in 1999. Indeed, even Lavrov has hinted that the proposed UN sanctions may hamper Iran's "legal nuclear program".

Of course, there is nothing "illegal" about Iran's pursuit of an independent nuclear-fuel cycle, sanctioned under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but given the new alarms raised in the US about Bushehr's potential use for making plutonium bombs, there is every expectation now for further delays in Bushehr's completion. This is because of the UN-imposed restrictions on the travel of nuclear officials and scientists and the transfer of "dual purpose" technology.

Since the mid-1990s, Russia has been educating Iranian scientists at the Moscow Kurchatov Institute of Nuclear Energy 

Continued 1 2 

The cost: An army and a leg (Dec 14, '06)

A door opens for US-Iran cooperation (Dec 9, '06)


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