Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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You have to hand it to the Iranian leadership

Another day, another country Iran manages to alienate with its nuclear policy. From yesterday's New York Times:

Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran’s nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, European, American and Iranian officials say.

The ultimatum was delivered in Moscow last week by Igor S. Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian National Security Council, to Ali Hosseini Tash, Iran’s deputy chief nuclear negotiator, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a confidential diplomatic exchange between two governments was involved.

For years, President Bush has been pressing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to cut off help to Iran on the nuclear power plant that Russia is building at Bushehr, in southern Iran. But Mr. Putin has resisted. The project is Tehran’s first serious effort to produce nuclear energy and has been very profitable for Russia.

Recently, however, Moscow and Tehran have been engaged in a public argument about whether Iran has paid its bills, which may explain Russia’s apparent shift. But the ultimatum may also reflect an increasing displeasure and frustration on Moscow’s part with Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium at its vast facility at Natanz....

Russia has been deeply reluctant to ratchet up sanctions against Iran in the Security Council, which is expected to vote on a new set of penalties against the country within the next week.

But American officials have been trying to create a commercial incentive for Russia to put pressure on Iran. One proposal the Bush administration has endorsed since late 2005 envisions having the Russians enrich Iran’s uranium in Russia. That creates the prospect of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in business for Russia, and a way to ensure that Iran receives only uranium enriched for use in power reactors, instead of for use in weapons.

Iran has rejected those proposals, saying it has the right to enrich uranium on its own territory....

Mr. Ivanov... called on Iran to resolve outstanding questions with the agency about its nuclear program and to stop enriching uranium. The Russians have been pressing Iran to take some sort of pause in its uranium enrichment that might allow the Security Council sanction process to halt and bring Iran back to the negotiating table.

“The clock must be stopped; Iran must freeze uranium enrichment,” Mr. Ivanov said. “The U.N. Security Council will then take a break, too, and the parties would gather at the negotiating table.”

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has also called for a “pause,” noting that even a brief suspension of enrichment would be enough to get the United States to the negotiating table with Iran under an offer that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made in May.

Two thoughts:
1) As I said last year, "never trust the Russians to be a dependable ally."

2) The fact that Ivanov and ElBaradei are not calling for a pause on enrichment does call into question whether Laura Rozen was right in her assessment of the U.S. negotiating strategy in her interesting Washington Monthly piece:

At the end of May (2006), Rice pushed the policy as far as she could. In the Ben Franklin Room of the State Department, she made her boldest announcement since becoming secretary of state: The United States would agree to join direct talks with Iran for the first time in twenty-seven years. Iran was given the summer to consider Rice’s offer, which was accompanied by pages of inducements from the West, including an international offer to build Iran a civilian nuclear power facility, and economic inducements such as WTO membership. Yet again, though, this wasn’t a pure victory for the behavior changers. Instead of offering unconditional negotiations, Rice’s proposal included a caveat palatable to the hard-liners that placed the prospect of ever getting to the negotiating table in doubt: Iran had to agree to suspend its uranium enrichment program for the duration of the talks.

posted by Dan on 03.21.07 at 08:56 AM


"The fact that Ivanov and ElBaradei are not calling for a pause..."

Shouldn't that read Ivanov and ElBaradei are calling for a pause?

posted by: kwo on 03.21.07 at 08:56 AM [permalink]

Just to convey a tought: That news of Iranian-Russian troubles started to appear after some nasty echanges with Russia about USA-Eastern European ATBM shield...

posted by: lucklucky on 03.21.07 at 08:56 AM [permalink]

If the Iranians get back on track with their payments to Russia, they will be able to continue their bomb program. This seems more like a commercial haggle, a la the attempts by Russia to jack up gas prices to its neighbors. It's possible that Bush's suggestion to do Iranian enrichment on Russian soil has lured the Russians into going for an even bigger score, but if the Iranians pay up on their past due stuff while insisting on enrichment at home, I can't see the Russians supporting serious action to stop them.

posted by: srp on 03.21.07 at 08:56 AM [permalink]

If they start to see ATBMs in fomer Warsaw Pact countries just because Iran missiles i am not sure if they dont start to think twice.

posted by: lucklucky on 03.21.07 at 08:56 AM [permalink]

If there is a dispute between Russia and Iran, I am fairly sure that it is the result of behind-the-scenes pressure from the Americans. Dan is right that the Russians can't be trusted, but the Iranians can be trusted (though, you don't have to like them). It is hard for me to believe that Iran is not paying its bills, and this does seem like a Russian gas deal type price raise. Russia knows that Iran is in an extremely tight situation and can use this chance to turn the screws on them. Iran, as is its normal way, will continue on its course with or without Russia support. But having the cover of Russian protection is extremely important to the Iranians.

It is extremely troubling that the USA and the British are pushing for more sanctions on Iran. As yet, there is still no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran, and i think it is extremely unlikely that Iran is making weapons. Unfortunately, the USA is determined to control the world and extend its empire, and thus will not allow anyone to act as an independent country. The USA (government) is a true cancer in the world today and should be delt with accordingly.

posted by: Joe M. on 03.21.07 at 08:56 AM [permalink]

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