Washington (UPI) Mar 26, 2007
While long perceived in Washington as friends, Russia and Iran clearly do not regard each other as such at present. The Russian Atomic Energy Organization, after many years of delay, has almost finished work on the nuclear reactor Moscow is building for Iran at Bushehr, and was supposed to start supplying the enriched uranium for it to run on.
Moscow, though, has stopped work on the reactor and said it will not deliver the fuel because Tehran has stopped making payments owed to Russia. Tehran hotly denies this, claiming that it has paid Moscow everything it is due.
Underlying this dispute is the increasing Russian fear that Iran might well use the atomic energy capacity Moscow is building for it to acquire nuclear weapons. On March 18, Interfax quoted Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov as stating that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons "would be a threat to Russia's interests," and that "we are doing everything to prevent this."
The New York Times reported on March 19 that Moscow has informed Tehran it will not deliver the fuel for Iran's nuclear reactor unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program which many fear it will use to develop weapons grade material.
The Bush administration has reportedly encouraged a tougher Russian stance on the Iranian nuclear issue by supporting a plan for Iran's uranium to be enriched in Russia. This would both provide profits to Russia as well as ensure that Iran's uranium would only be enriched to the lower level needed for an atomic energy reactor and not to the higher level required for a weapon. Up to now, though, Tehran has insisted upon enriching at least some uranium inside Iran.
It is not yet clear whether Iran will back down and agree to Russia enriching all its uranium, or if Russia will indeed refuse to deliver the fuel needed for the Bushehr reactor if Iran does not. Washington would be happy with either outcome. Instead of improving Russian-American relations, though, either outcome could sow the seeds of further misunderstanding between Moscow and Washington.
This is because the two sides have very different expectations from each other. If Moscow gets Tehran to agree to Russia enriching all it uranium -- and even more so if Tehran does not agree and Moscow follows through on its threat not to deliver fuel for Iran's nuclear reactor -- Moscow will expect significant compensation from Washington.
Washington, by contrast, has long seen the Iranian atomic energy program as something Moscow should not have been supporting in the first place. It should not be necessary, in the American view, to compensate someone for halting or reversing an action that is harmful not just to others, but even to itself.
It is not, of course, just Russian support for the Iranian nuclear program that Moscow and Washington have had this difference of opinion over. Indeed, this difference in outlook has existed ever since the end of the Cold War. Moscow, for example, thought it was due major compensation from America and the West for allowing the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe and withdrawing its armed forces from there. America and the West, by contrast, saw both the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet military presence in these countries as illegitimate to begin with, and thus not deserving significant compensation. There have been similar differences between Moscow and Washington since then over many other issues.
It is highly likely, then, that Moscow will see itself entitled to significant compensation from Washington for not delivering fuel for the Iranian nuclear reactor if Tehran refuses to freeze its nuclear enrichment program. At the same time, Washington will see preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as being as beneficial to Russia as to all other countries, and therefore will not be willing to make significant concessions to get Moscow to stop hurting its own interests by helping the Iranian nuclear program.
Thus, even if Russia ends up not supplying fuel for Iran's nuclear reactor, Russian-American relations are not likely to improve.
earlier related report
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, vowed that no Security Council resolution could ever halt the Islamic republic's "march" toward the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
"Iran has decided to partially limit its cooperation with this agency until the Iranian nuclear file is transferred from the Security Council" back to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said spokesman Gholamhossein Elham.
The spokesman, quoted on the state news agency IRNA, explained that Iran had accepted four years ago an arrangement under which it informed the IAEA of any decision to construct a new nuclear installation.
But it would no longer inform the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog of new installations until six months before they are brought into service, Elham said.
In Vienna, there was no immediate IAEA reaction to the announcement but one diplomat said "it was pretty clear this was coming down the pike".
UN inspectors visited the Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz on Tuesday, diplomats said, but it was not clear if they resolved a dispute over monitoring a strategic underground bunker.
Iran is building an industrial-scale plant in the bunker at Natanz to make enriched uranium, which can be used for nuclear reactor fuel or atomic bomb material.
Diplomats in Vienna speculated that cutting off access to Natanz might be part of Iran's response to the reinforced sanctions.
At the United Nations, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would also respond soon to an offer by six major powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- to resume talks to end the nuclear standoff.
"If there are new requests or proposals made we will have appropriate reactions and answers to those too.
"We hope that they (the six) are not going to repeat what has been repeated in the past," he noted, referring to the UN demand that Iran suspend sensitive uranium enrichment in order for talks to begin.
The Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany have tasked EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana with seeking new talks with Iran on ways to stop Tehran from enriching uranium.
Mottaki repeated his view that the sanctions unanimously approved by the Security Council were "illegal and unjustified" and stressed that "all questions about Iran's nuclear programme have been answered."
He reiterated that the "appropriate place for dealing with the (Iranian nuclear) issue is the International Atomic Energy Agency," not the Security Council.
Back home, Ahmadinejad was unbowed by the sanctions, vowing that Tehran would "not halt for a second the peaceful and legal nuclear march of the Iranian people."
"They can publish hundreds of such documents, but let them be sure that nothing will change in Iran and our march will continue without any interruption," said the hardline president.
He warned that "the Iranian people will not forget the hostility of countries" which opposed Tehran's nuclear programme.
The UN resolution, agreed after days of behind-the-scenes bargaining, blocks all Iranian arms exports and freezes the overseas assets of 28 additional officials and institutions linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
It also restricts financial aid or loans to Tehran, and sets a fresh 60-day deadline for Iran to comply with UN demands or face "further appropriate measures."
The new sanctions, slapped on Tehran after measures already adopted in December, were imposed after Iran ignored repeated ultimatums from the Security Council to suspend uranium enrichment.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is designed for civilian energy purposes, but Western nations fear it is a cover for building an atomic bomb.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday appealed for fresh dialogue, urging Tehran "to urgently take the necessary steps to restore the international community's trust that its nuclear program is peaceful in nature," his office said.
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University
Source: United Press International
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Iran Navy Launches Gulf War Games
Tehran (AFP) March 22, 2007
The Iranian navy launched military exercises in the Gulf on Thursday in a display of the Islamic republic's "power and defence capability", the naval chief said.