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RIA Novosti
March 15, 2007
Russia and Iran: one big muddle

MOSCOW. (Leonid Radzikhovsky, member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council) - Russia has received no payments since January for construction work on the Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran. Russia took offence after two months of talks and announced that construction would be suspended.

Anyone can see the contractor's point-there is no reason to hurry if the client isn't coughing up the money.

The latter's stance is also understandable: "What kind of a fool would pay! Are we friends, or what?"

I will dare to re-create the two countries' dialogue of cross purposes.

RUSSIA. We have done this and that. What about our money?

IRAN. Right! We hate the U.S. like poison!

RUSSIA. Wha-a-at?

IRAN. Anything unclear?

RUSSIA. Hmm. We're here to talk money, aren't we?

IRAN. We are talking money. We hate Yankees!

RUSSIA. But... What about our money?

IRAN. Wha-a-at?

RUSSIA. See, the Bushehr contract is worth a billion dollars. We'd like... Uh... We can wait, sure.

(The Iranian delegates hold a short conference among themselves. The interpreters are replaced.)

IRAN. Sorry, we have had to change our interpreters. What were you saying?

RUSSIA. What about our money?

IRAN. We see. The Bushehr contract is essential, isn't it?

RUSSIA (blushing). We are glad you see that.

IRAN. We're glad, too. The contract really matters to us.

RUSSIA. To us, too!

IRAN. It matters much more than a billion dollars!

RUSSIA. We can do with a billion, all right!

IRAN. The contract implies, as a matter of principle, the de facto establishment of a united front against the Great Satan: U.S. imperialism and global Zionism, which controls it, with their ignoble lies about the Holocaust. The world's best scholars have convincingly refuted those fables, which intend to substantiate the Zionist...

RUSSIA. All that might be very interesting, but it's somewhat off the point.

IRAN. The lies about the Holocaust are used as a Zionist bludgeon not only against the Arab world but against Europe, too. Now, if...

(The Russians and Iranians start talking all at once-and all fall silent at the same instant, exchanging perplexed glances. The Iranian delegates hold another conference among themselves. The interpreters are replaced again.)

IRAN. Gentlemen, let us sum everything up now. The importance of our contract is mainly political, as part of our resistance to global U.S.-Zionist aggression. That is the point of our partnership, the way we see it. That is why we are so willing to be partners. Evidently, this situation makes fees a mere technicality-something we can take up any time.

RUSSIA. Why not take it up now?

IRAN. No objection. We only have to say that money is no yardstick for our friendship with Russia! We will not put up with the idea of a unipolar world. The Russian president said so, and worded it admirably. We share his opinions on that score. That's what underlies our friendship. Free nations will never reconcile themselves to the Zionist diktat. The Iranian president said so, and worded it admirably.

RUSSIA. What about our money?

IRAN. We'll get to that, but only after a short technical break, if you have no objections.

Such talks can go on ad infinitum, much to either delegation's chagrin. The situation, however, is as plain as it can be. Iran merely does not want to untie its purse strings. It is sure that might is right, and talks to anyone-not just Russia-from a position of strength. The Iranian leadership sees this as a very convenient arrangement. At any rate, it bears good fruit, particularly with Russia. Last but not least, Iran suspects Russia of harboring Great Power ambitions and of scheming to stay at the card table with the U.S. even though it has run out of chips. If that were really so, Russia would need Iran as partner. However, being a junior partner is the last thing Iran wants. After all, it is no Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko. Iran will allow Russia to kiss its derriere, but it will not be the kisser-too proud for that! As a reward, it wants Russia to build the Bushehr plant gratis, or for a token sum.

What we see here is a clash of two concepts.

In its relations with Russia, Iran clings to the old, Soviet concept by which the Soviet Union-and also the United States, for that matter-held onto its alleged friends. "We hate the U.S., and you build things for us in exchange," is how it sounds.

The new, Russian concept rests on free market principles. These make Russia willing to help with political declarations, but nothing more. Unlike the U.S., Russia charges full price for its commodities, services, etc.

We shall soon see which concept carries the day in the current dispute.