Friday, May 05, 2006

Russian Bridge to Iran Has Twists

Russian Bridge to Iran Has Twists

I'm falling into the trap of talking about newspaper articles and headlines. It is what happens when time is limited to write more completely on other topics. As Katja and I are traveling to North Carolina Sunday to Wednesday and to Las Vegas for a 6-day trip over Memorial Day, this may be continuing for a while.

Alissa Rubin and Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times has an interesting article discussing Russia and Iran. Certainly the article is less inflammatory than continuing discussions regarding Dick Cheney's words and the reaction in the Russian press comparing it to Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech.

Large portions of the article are quotes from five individuals:
  • Radzhab Safarov, director of the Iranian Studies Center in Moscow;
  • an unidentified European diplomat with "experience in the former Soviet Union";
  • an unidentified senior diplomat in Europe for a Middle Eastern country;
  • Nikolai Spassky deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council; and
  • Gary Samore, head of global security for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Dissecting each individuals comments and quotes pulls the remarks out of the reporters guiding hands and allows for an analysis of what each individual actually said.

From the unnamed diplomat, we have some tacit statements that Russia is willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
"Russia has a bunch of motives…. Coming back as one of the world's superpowers is definitely one — counterbalancing the U.S., but also counterbalancing China and India."

"Even with 25 nuclear warheads, Iran would never be a threat to Russia, which could readily retaliate. So accepting that Iran might have a small nuclear capability and combining that with potential Russian economic successes in Iran and the Russian capability to influence or even to lead Iran — that is really something."
Mr. Samore suggests that Russia doesn't want to see a nuclear-armed Iran, but to Russia's mind there are worst things that could happen:
"Of course the Russians don't want the Iranians to develop nukes, but they are much more concerned about confrontation leading to sanctions and war, and that's much more of a threat to their interests,"
Nikolai Spassky speaks about the Russian officials mantra that Iran should not "violate the nonproliferation regime":
"Our position is always [the same], and it's conditioned by two basic principles, which are the integrity and inviolability of the nonproliferation regime — this is absolutely fundamental, absolutely essential."

"On the other hand, we've got to recognize and to acknowledge the undeniable right of Iran, like any other country in the world, to peacefully pursue its peaceful nuclear program, peaceful nuclear energy. Of course, it's not an easy thing to reconcile these two basic positions, but we do think that it's still possible."
Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful. How do you determine the intent of a nation's leaders? Perhaps by reading their words and watching their actions. Did those Iranians holding vials of enriched uranium look very peaceful to you? Does President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements that "Israel cannot continue to live" sound very peaceful? I guess they don't show that in the news inside Russia these days.

From Radzhab Safarov's comments and quotes, we see he believes Russia has a choice to make, but the Russian choice is already clear:
This is "a moment of truth for Russia," when the nation will choose whether to throw its lot with the West or keep the U.S. and its allies at arm's length, said Radzhab Safarov, director of the Iranian Studies Center in Moscow. Safarov (further states) that beyond economic concerns, regaining ascendancy on the world stage was paramount for Russia. If Moscow can define itself as the world's broker on Iran, he said, it will be the "go to" country for the West in dealing with the Islamic Republic.

"Russia has a unique and historic chance to return to the world arena once again as a key player and as a reborn superpower. If Russia firmly stands by Iran's interests in this conflict … Russia will immediately regain its quite lost prestige in the Muslim world and on the global arena at large.

Of course, that will result in a serious cooling of relations between Russia and the United States. But Russia and the United States are destined to be competitors and no lucrative proposals from the United States can change this situation strategically."
From the senior European Diplomat in the Middle East, we see a picture that already paints greater cooperation with Iran, than with the West:
"Knowing the Russians and knowing their relationship, I think they are telling Iran how far they are prepared to go. Every step they discuss with the five [permanent Security Council members] is balanced with steps they discuss with Iran. They get a kind of silent agreement with Iran that they might go along … because of their political interests. But they have to talk with Iran — it's in their backyard, and no matter what happens, they have to live with it."

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