Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Iranian Nuclear Problem: A View from Russia

Vladimir Evseev
nuclear iran
Russian interests in Iran:
a) Political area
- preservation of partnership relations with Tehran - one of the conditions for substantial Moscow influence in the region of the Middle East ;
- from the beginning of the 1990s, Iran has been a traditional political partner of Russia in restraining the Sunni radical groups, primarily in the northern Caucasus, making it impossible to isolate Armenia, working for a peaceful settlement in Tajikistan, and also actively assisting in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan;
- Iran, as a regional competitor of Turkey, significantly weakens its influence, initially in Transcaucasia where Moscow’s position is not strong enough, especially since the significant rise in prices for Russian energy carriers (Iran is an alternative source of energy resources and at least 20 million ethnic Azerbaijanis live there);

b) Economic area
- an important trading partner (annual trade turnover has reached $2.2 billon) in the sphere of high-technology products, as well as in the extraction (transportation) of oil and gas, construction of the railway component of the “North-South” project, and also in the area of food-stuffs and the supply of light industry commodities;
- third most important importer (after China and India) of arms (in November 2005 a contract for delivery of Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran was signed, at a value of around $1billion);
- a large importer of atomic energy products (the value of the contract for further construction of the energy reactor in Bushehr came to $800 million; around 300 Russian companies were involved in that contract resulting in approximately 20 thousand jobs; the Iranian leadership has requested the construction there of two more Russian energy reactors).

c) Security area
- because of territorial proximity, armed conflict between any country and Iran could lead to destabilization of the situation, first in Transcaucasia and later in the North Caucasus (the population of each of the Transcaucasian republics is many times less than in Iran, under heavy aerial missile bombardment the flow of Iranian refugees could come to millions); as a result of this there would be a huge zone of destabilization and would heavily damage the economy of the whole region;
- Russia, China and India have found themselves facing a complicated choice: either to support the West in putting growing pressure on Tehran and at the same time weakening their positions among the Muslim world countries, or to aggravate their relations with the West and risk the prospect of creating global bipolarization;
- continuing conflict over the Iranian nuclear problem will inevitably lead to a split in the anti-terrorist coalition and strengthen the positions of radical groups in the Muslim world;
- the absence of solid grounds, not only for using force against Iran, but even to apply economic sanctions; in these circumstances to start a war against Tehran would be an act of international arbitrariness (North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and declared it was creating its own nuclear weapons, but that did not lead to any military force being used against the country, why therefore could mere suspicion be the ground for military force to be used against Iran).

It is very important for Moscow to secure its partnership relationship with Tehran, which is why Russia is against the introduction of economic sanctions against Iran pursuant to a decision of the UN Security Council. At the same time, Russia holds a pragmatic position and has no intention of harming its relationship with the West to please Tehran. In particular, Tehran would like to purchase S-300 PMU-1 anti-aircraft medium- and long-range missiles. In January 2006 talks on this issue were halted because Iran had resumed its nuclear research.

It is unacceptable for Moscow if Iran starts accumulating stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, cancel its relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and withdraw from the NPT. The danger is obvious given that some Russian territories are within range of the Iranian Shehab-3 missiles.

Russia is prepared to provide assistance in developing peaceful atomic energy but is opposed to Iran creating the full nuclear fuel cycle as a probable scientific-technological basis for a military nuclear program. In this respect it is very important to continue the IAEA inspections to monitor Iranian nuclear facilities and to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Additional Protocol to the NPT (1997).

Already, in the immediate future it is possible that frictions will emerge between Moscow and Tehran due to the adherence of the new leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) to orthodox “Khomeinist” ideology and its support of Islamic groups. The biggest concerns for the Russian leadership are the provocative statements of the new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad towards Israel and the possible export of Iranian nuclear technologies.

The current four parties to the negotiations (Iran, Great Britain, Germany and France) have apparently exhausted themselves as none of them are prepared for compromises and a decision, on either the question of providing Tehran negative security guarantees (the obligation not to attack) or membership of the World Trade Organization, can not be taken without Washington. Due to the limitations on their influence Moscow and Beijing are not independently able to solve the Iranian nuclear problem, and Washington is not ready to enter direct bilateral negotiations with Tehran. In this respect there should be the possibility to increase the number of participants to include Russia, China and the USA and to prepare an agreed package of proposals such as:
on the US side - to provide negative security guarantees to Iran and normalization of the relationship;
- on the European Union side - to provide significant investments and technologies to Tehran, primarily in the oil and gas industry, including oil processing (occupying third or forth place in the world in oil deposits Iran has to import around 30% of its petroleum);
- on the Russian side - to construct the nuclear power stations, supply the fuel, remove spent fuel and sell defensive armaments;
- on the Chinese side - to guarantee purchases of substantial volumes of oil;
- on the Iranian side - to ratify the Additional Protocol to the NPT (1997), to introduce a temporary moratorium on large-scale enrichment (for example for five years only research activities), a long-term moratorium on the plutonium program (for example for ten years), and to provide the IAEA with full information about earlier work done in the nuclear area.

The West would like to prevent Iran from building up the key stages of the full nuclear fuel cycle, but the present international legal basis (the NPT and IAEA safeguards) only permits monitoring this process. The Russian proposal on joint uranium fuel production with Iran (all operations except conversion on the Russian territory), has become a topic for discussion or probably a diplomatic game. It looks as though the Russian proposal does not have any future because the issue of guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel to Iran is too much of a far-fetched character. It is quite reasonable to suggest to Tehran that it ratifies the Additional Protocol to the NPT (1997) in exchange for the right to carry out limited uranium enrichment research activities (in total 164 P-1-type centrifuges and only at Natanz) under the IAEA control.

In the opinion of a number of experts, Washington’s policy in the area of nuclear non-proliferation is to a large extent based on “double standards”. Such perceptions have become more real after the US-India Nuclear Treaty was signed. This factually confirmed India’s status as a nuclear power (India is not a party to the NPT, in 1998 the country conducted its nuclear tests). Seemingly, the USA wants Indian help to implement China’s deterrence policy and isolating Iran (Washington insists on suspending the contract on the construction of the Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline).

In the present situation it is unwise to aim at the isolation of Iran; on the contrary, it is important to involve Iran in global processes. This is the only way to stabilize the situation in the Middle East.

Nowadays a number of nuclear-free countries, parties to the NPT, have acquired the full nuclear fuel cycle (for example, Japan and Germany). Iran’s efforts to complete this cycle do not violate the requirements of the NPT but can lead to a source of tension. Under these circumstances it is reasonable to put forward an initiative that all new facilities for the full nuclear fuel cycle, such as uranium enrichment, reprocessing of spent fuel and separation of plutonium, would be developed only under international control; and further, according to this initiative, to transfer gradually the key stages of the full nuclear fuel cycle of all the countries, including nuclear and nuclear-free ones, to come under the international management and total control of the IAEA; and also to conclude a convention on the prohibition of the fissile materials production for nuclear weapons.

Apart from this, the Zangger Committee (the Nuclear Exporters Committee) could have approved the complete list of technologies, units and assemblies that are the key components of the full nuclear fuel cycle or dual-use-designated production, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group could have included a clause on their return or disassembly, in the event of withdrawing from the NPT, as an essential one in any future contract for the supply of appropriate technologies in the framework of Article IV of the Treaty. Thus, any technologies for the full nuclear fuel cycle, acquired by the nuclear-free states within the NPT, should be returned or liquidated under the IAEA control should a country withdraw from the Treaty.

All these would make it possible to decrease significantly the acuteness of the Iranian nuclear problem.

This report was done on-the-record Policy Forum at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on April 3, 2006.
(posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk)


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