January 17, 2006
Iranian atom and Moscow priorities
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) -- Iran has been in the news a great deal. I would add the word "again," because the world community has had enough of Iran's endless scheming with its nuclear program - one step forward, two steps back, and its continuous verbal provocations against Israel. The latest statement of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the sick Ariel Sharon goes against elementary rules of ethics. Moreover, the remark came at the height of the biggest Muslim holiday, which is an offence to his own faith, because in the final count Christians, Jews, and Muslims have one and the same God.
Some time ago, while commenting on U.S. sharp criticism of the elections in Iran, I urged not to rush to conclusions in the hope that common sense would triumph in Iran. But it did not. Quite the contrary, Iran seems intent on mocking the whole world with its arrogant behavior.
For a long time Moscow tried not to spoil relations with Iran, but it has become weary of Tehran's conduct as well. In full conformity with the rules and under IAEA control, Moscow is building a nuclear power plant for Iran in Bushehr. Economic interests are important for Russia, but for obvious reasons its position is primarily determined by the fact that Iran is a neighbor. Nevertheless, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Radio Echo Moscow recently that Tehran ought to understand the priorities of Russian diplomacy for Iran.
Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons ranks first. In this context Russia fully shares the position of IAEA and its Western partners, which has been the basis for all the recent negotiations with Iran. This is all the more important, because Iran is overtly hostile to another sovereign nation and a UN member, and because Iran has advanced considerably not only in its nuclear program, but also in developing long-range missile carriers.
Uranium enrichment is the most painful issue. Iran has been evidently ragging out time on purpose. As Lavrov reminded the audience, Iran has withdrawn from the moratorium, which was accepted by its previous government. Moreover, in its usual manner, Iran has neither accepted nor rejected the Russian proposal to enrich uranium for peaceful uses at a Russian-Iranian joint venture on Russian territory and under IAEA control, a proposal, which suits all the sides concerned.
Finally, as Lavrov explained, Russia resisted the transfer of Iranian nuclear file to the UN Security Council for a long time, because IAEA inspectors still have no answers to major questions regarding the secret efforts Iran has been making in this sphere for almost 20 years. As long as IAEA inspectors are able to work in Iran, they have an opportunity to find these answers, but as soon as the Security Council gets the file, their hands will be tied, whereas Iran will get carte blanche.
I believe that Moscow will change its position at an extraordinary session of the negotiators on Iran's nuclear problem on Monday (several European countries, IAEA, the U.S., Russia, and China). Tehran simply has left it no alternative. Moreover, Lavrov emphasized the need for unity on such questions, and Moscow will vote in the same way as IAEA.
The next round of diplomatic confrontation will obviously take place at the UN Security Council. It is not going to be easy. The trouble is that the sanctions, on which the U.S. and European countries will insist, are not likely to resolve the problem. It has been proven more than once that any UN sanctions are easy to obviate.
It is unlikely that the U.S. will intervene militarily in the near future, either. Perhaps, it would yield to this temptation if it were not stuck in Iraq. The adamant Sharon is out of the political game. The British Foreign Office is against military intervention, at least for the time being. Russia is resolutely against it. Creating another hotbed of war in the Middle East would be insane.
I think that similar reasoning allows Iran to behave off-hand in respect of the rest of the world. Its political and religious leaders may be correct in their short-term calculations, but in perspective their desire to blow up the nuclear non-proliferation treaty may backfire, and they with have to deal with most unpleasant consequences.