Sunday, January 15, 2006

Russia Prepares for Evacuation

Iranian nuclear crisis
The European Union decided to break off negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. The final decision on the holding of an extraordinary meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the forwarding of the Iranian dossier to the UN Security Council will be made next week in London at negotiations with representatives of the United States, EU, Russia and China. Moscow has already made it clear that it will no longer cover for Iran, which removed the seals from its nuclear facilities yesterday. Kommersant has learned that the Russian military delegation has Teheran, cutting off negotiations on the sale of S-300 complexes to it. An evacuation plan for the Russian specialists working in Iran is being developed in Moscow.
Russia Washes Its Hands

The biggest news yesterday was that Russia supported the West's position on Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized Iran with unprecedented severity on radio station Ekho Moskvy. He confirmed that Western countries intended to hold an unscheduled meeting of the IAEA to discuss Iran within weeks. Lavrov made it clear that Russia would support the proposal to forward the dossier on Iran to the UN Security Council, even though Moscow had opposed that step until now.

“We shouldn't forget that Iran has a rather developed missile program,” Lavrov pointed out. “Medium- and long-range missiles. The continual declarations by Iranian leaders about Israel add fuel to the fire. It all adds to the political arguments of those who say that Iran can be communicated with only through the UN Security Council.”

Lavrov stipulated that “Iranian problem is not likely to be solved without the professional activity of the IAEA.” That phrase also indicates Moscow's readiness to drop its political support of Iran. If the Iranian dossier is forwarded to the Security Council, Iran will most likely refuse to cooperate with the IAEA and will expel its inspectors from the country. In that case, the “professional activity” of the agency will be impossible.

Russia was forced to stop its support of Iran. In the last few months, Iranian authorities humiliated Moscow several times by refusing its initiatives to act as an intermediary. Russia proposed solving the problem by enriching Iranian uranium by carrying the process out on its territory. Iran would then be insured against suspicions of attempting to set up a nuclear weapons program. The West supported Russia's proposal and gave it time to convince Teheran. But Iranian authorities stated firmly that the Russian initiative was unacceptable and that Teheran had yet to hear any acceptable suggestions from Russia.

Moscow changed its tune not because of that, but because Iran removed the IAEA seals from its centrifuges and renewed research on uranium enrichment. Last Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Lavrov and warned him that, after that, Washington would not wait for the next IAEA meeting in March, but would have the Iranian dossier transferred to the Security Council within the next few weeks.

Teheran without Arms

Clearly, Moscow has made the decision not to hinder a discussion on the Iranian problem in the Security Council, but to seek to temper it as much as possible, since the introduction of sanctions against Iran would damage Russian interest as well. Russian diplomats at the UN will first try to delay the passage of a strong resolution and replace it with a call for Iran to return to the moratorium on uranium enrichment and to return to negotiations. In the event that sanctions are imposed, Russia will try to have the Bushehr project and everything connected with it, such as Russian supplies of nuclear fuel for the generating station, exempt from the sanctions.

Nonetheless, Russia is not hiding its annoyance with the Iranians. Kommersant has learned that, last Monday, the Russian delegation negotiating on the sale of S-300PMU-1 ballistic antiaircraft missiles to Iran. According to the information Kommersant obtained, the negotiations were cut off demonstratively as a sign of Moscow's disagreement with Teheran's handling of the atomic problem.

Russia and Iran established military and technical contacts at the beginning of 2004, soon after the visit of Hasan Rohani, secretary of the Iranian supreme council of national security, to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Kommersant sources, that was when Teheran asked Russia to help it create an air defense system. The Iranian military considered it essential to modernize the air defenses around Teheran, which had been in place since 1991 and included ten S-200VEs, and to cover another four regions with an air defense system based on S-300PMU-1s. Isfahan, the second largest industrial center of the country, is to be covered in the system, as are the country's main naval base at Bandar-Abbas on the Persian Gulf, the Bushehr facility and the oil terminals at Abadan and Khorramshahr. After Russian specialists made an analysis in 2004, it was decided that modernization of the S-200VEs was inexpedient and Russia proposed using S-300PMU-1s for the defense of Teheran.

At first, Russia preferred to make a deal with Iran for the sale of 29 Tor-M1 complexes for $700 million. That contract was signed at the end of last year and evoked a reaction throughout the world. A defense industry source told Kommersant that “Moscow wanted to test the international reaction by signing a contract to sell Tors as a cover for S-300s.” The next move was to sell Teheran five divisions of S-300MPU-1 ballistic antiaircraft missiles for $800 million. That contract was scheduled for signing in March.

However, as tension over Iran mounted, it was understood in Moscow that it would not be possible to sell ballistic missiles to Iran – they wouldn't understand in the West. Now Russia is hoping to resell the same S-300MPU-1 complexes to Algeria.

The U.S. and Iran Go It All the Way

The EU took a harder line at the same time as Russia. The foreign ministers of Great Britain, Germany and France gathered yesterday in Berlin and stated that their efforts with Iran had failed. For two years, the European “Big Three” had been trying to convince Iran to forego uranium enrichment voluntarily. After the Iranians removed the IAEA seals from three atomic centers in Iran, the European decided that the dialog was meaningless.

As a high-ranking European diplomat said yesterday, “The Three won't be going to the consultative meeting with the Iranian delegation earlier planned for January 18.” Moreover, a statement issued by the ministers yesterday says that Europe will recommend that a session of the Governance Council of the IAEA be held immediately to confirm the introduction of the issue of Iran's nuclear program in the UN Security Council.

Europe and Russia changed their positions against a backdrop of the unaltered stances of the main players in the conflict. The Americans wanted the Iranian dossier handed over to the Security Council three years ago and have not ceased in their demands all this time. Yesterday, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney stated confidently that the dossier could be in the Security Council by next week.

Washington will have to reach an agreement with China, however. Undersecretary of State Christopher Hill will enter into negotiations in Beijing this week on that topic and next week U.S., Chinese, EU and Russian representatives will meet in London to make a final decision on when to involve the Security Council.

There is no doubt that the U.S. is determined to see this to the end. It has information that Iran is close to beginning production of nuclear weapons. Teheran has both the knowledge and the technical documentation. Only the highly enriched uranium is lacking. Kommersant sources say that information will be confirmed by IAEA specialists and will be made public by that agency's general director at its next session. By removing the IAEA seals and renewing its enrichment research, Iran has crossed the line drawn by the U.S.

The Iranians are equally decisive. A Russian government source told Kommersant that they became convinced in Moscow after a Russian Security Council delegation visited Teheran that the Iranians are not bluffing and intend to stand up for their right to develop a nuclear program. Russian negotiators in Teheran said that the Iranian authorities have decided not to avoid direct military confrontation if things come to that. In Moscow, they think that an American armed action could begin this year.

Kommersant has received information that, in connection with that, the Kremlin is already developing an evacuation plan for Russian specialists in case of military action in Iran. Attention is also being paid to the likelihood that the Iranians could try to detain the Russians to use them as “living shields.” There are about 3000 Russian citizens in Iran at the present time.


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