The talks at the UnitedNations over Iran's nuclear weapons program have stalled, and theculprit is clear: the Russian government of ex-KGB officer VladmirPutin.
Russia has chosen to help the Islamic Republic of Iran buy more timeto complete its nuclear weapons programs, turning down repeated U.S.and European offers to soften a UN Security Council statement duringyet another round of negotiations in New York on Wednesday.
"Why anybody in Moscow thinks it's in their interest to have anuclear-capable ballistic missile-equipped Iran near their southernborder is a mystery to me," U.S. ambassador to the United NationsJohn Bolton said last week.
And yet, that's precisely what the Russians are doing.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the problem was that thedraft UN statement "includes points that effectively lay thegroundwork for sanctions against Iran."
So for the Russians, it's okay to "summon" or "admonish" or "suggest"that Iran changes its behavior. It's just not okay to do anythingabout it.
Mr. Lavrov wants to defer yet again to the International AtomicEnergy Agency, and keep the Security Council out of it. But the IAEAby its very statute is not the competent authority for puttingpressure on Iran. It can gather information, inspect, place seals onIranian facilities - until the Iranians remove them. But it has noenforcement powers.
Russia is clearly playing a double game. On the one hand, Lavrov andPutin do not want to create undue tension between Moscow andWashington, so they maintain the ploy of civil negotiations. On theother, they want to ensure that Iran has enough time to complete itsnuclear weapons plans.
How do we know this? Because the Iranians themselves make no bonesabout their strategy. Former Iranian nuclear negotiators HassanRouhani and Hosein Musavian have both said publicly that the threeyears Iran gained through its negotiations with the IAEA since late2002 have allowed it to complete a key uranium conversion plant andto build hundreds of enrichment centrifuges in secret.
Iran announced earlier this month plans to install 3,000 enrichmentcentrifuges at its plant in Natanz this fall. Just this week, reportssurfaced that a pilot enrichment cascade of 164 centrifuges was nowup and running, giving Iran a "live" uranium enrichment capabilitywhere it can test technology for use in other, clandestineplants.
So why are the Russians so intent on helping Iran go nuclear?
The key can be found in a 1995 document, prepared for the officialthink tank of the General Staff of Armed Forces of the RussianFederation, which I obtained from Congressman Curt Weldon. Ipublished key portions of the document in the appendix ofCountdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown withIran.
The broad-ranging study proposed a new strategy for countering the"main external threats" to the Russian Federation. Despite the end ofthe Cold War, the study identified the United States as "the mainexternal force potentially capable of creatin'g a threat to RussianFederation military security and to Russias economic and politicalinterests."
Most importantly, the document urged Russian leaders to form astrategic alliance with Iraq and Iran, as a means of countering U.S.advances in the oil-rich Caspian region.
In addition to selling "military nuclear and missile technologies tocountries such as Iraq and Iran," the study advised that Russia couldenter into "direct military alliance& above all with Iran, withinthe framework of which a Russian troop contingent and tacticalnuclear weapons could be stationed on the shores of the Persian Gulfand the Strait of Hormuz."
In January, Jane's Defense Weekly reported that Middle Eastintelligence sources had confirmed a story appearing in the Germannewspaper Bild on Dec. 16, 2005, alleging that Iran hadacquired medium-range Russian missiles through North Korea.
The SS-N-6 submarine-launched missiles use a storableliquid propellant, making them more survivable than Iran'sShahab-3, which requires "an hour-long exposure while fueling beforelaunch," Jane's quoted a senior defense source as saying.
U.S. intelligence sources privately confirmed these reports tome.
This and other intelligence on Russia's nuclear and missile ties toIran provides a troubling backdrop to Russia's stonewall diplomacy atthe UN.
Russia will earn billions of dollars from Iran should current plansto build six additional nuclear power plants go through. Billionsmore are being generated from direct arms sales. And every time warscares increase the price of oil, Vladimir Putin's bankers goka-ching as windfall profits from Russia's own oil exportsresult.
But the Moscow-Tehran axis goes beyond just money. It is strategic.And this is where the Bush administration needs to focus itsefforts.
Over the past two weeks, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns hasseized control of the negotiations at the United Nations, virtuallysidelining ambassador John Bolton.
As the lead U.S. negotiator, designated by Secretary of StateCondoleeza Rice, Burns reminded reporters yesterday of hisnegotiating principles.
"All sides need to be flexible. I don't know how long it's going totake. But eventually, I think that these countries are going to agreeto a presidential statement."
A "presidential statement" from the UN Security Council is a veryweak document. Essentially, it's a bare statement of principles thatwill include nothing objectionable to any of the 15 members of theCouncil (the Permanent Five plus 10 rotating members.). In otherwords, it means negotiating down to the least common denominator.
This month, the Council is chaired by Argentina, which rarely voteswith us on key issues. Alsoamong the rotating members are Chile, Ghana, Congo and Greece.
Much more potent would be a UN Security Council resolution, whichmust come to a vote and requires approval by a majority of Councilmembers, not unanimity.
Despite protests and abstentions, the Security Council approvedseventeen such resolutions demanding that Saddam Hussein comply withUN disarmament demands. A single resolution demanding that Iran dothe same is the bare minimum we should expect from the Council - andfrom the Bush administration.
If Russia wants to play a double game on Iran, so be it. It's time toput Russia's intentions to the test. Allowing Putin and his team tobuy more time for Iran to complete its nuclear facilities is not anacceptable alternative.
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