Custom Search

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who Pissed in Russia's Cheerios?

This is not my forte, so to speak, so please visit Hot Air and Captain's Quarters for a more technical analysis, but this story in the NYT caught my eye.

Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran’s nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, European, American and Iranian officials said.

The ultimatum was delivered in Moscow last week by Igor Ivanov, Russia’s Security Council Secretary, to Ali Hosseini Tash, Iran’s deputy chief nuclear negotiator, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a confidential diplomatic exchange between two governments was involved.

Now, I am not complaining here because I have often said that when dealing with Iran, Russia has been one of the weak links at the UN.

Not today it seems.

For years, President Bush has been pressing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to cut off help to Iran on the nuclear reactor, which is Tehran’s first serious effort to produce nuclear energy and has been highly profitable for Russia. But Mr. Putin has resisted.

Recently, however, Moscow and Tehran have been engaged in a public argument about whether Iran has paid its bills, in a dispute that may explain Russia’s apparent shift. The ultimatum may also reflect Moscow’s increasing displeasure and frustration with Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium at its vast facility at Natanz.

“We’re not sure what mix of commercial and political motives are at play here,” one senior Bush administration official said in Washington. “But clearly the Russians and the Iranians are getting on each other’s nerves — and that’s not all bad.”

“We consider this a very important decision by the Russians,” a senior European official said. “It shows that our disagreements with the Russians about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program are tactical. Fundamentally, the Russians don’t want a nuclear Iran.”

At a time of growing tensions between Washington and Moscow, American officials are welcoming Russian aid on Iran as a sign that there are still areas in which the two powers can cooperate.

Russia has been deeply reluctant to ratchet up sanctions against Iran in the Security Council, which is expected to vote on a new set of sanctions against the country within the next week.

Later in the article:

The Bushehr nuclear project has a long history. For more than a decade, Russia has been working under a $1 billion contract to complete the ambitious project, which was begun with Germany during the time of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After the 1979 Iranian revolution, the project was halted; then the site was bombed by Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran. When Iran decided to complete the facility after the war ended, Germany, under pressure from the United States, refused to finish the project or even provide Moscow with the original blueprints.

The project — already eight years behind schedule — is now almost complete. Last year, Russia agreed to ship low-enriched fuel to the plant in southern Iran by March 2007 and open the facility in September, with electricity generation to start by November.

But in mid-February, Russia contended that Iran had not made the two last $25 million monthly payments, after insisting that it be allowed to pay in euros instead of dollars. Russian officials also cited a delay in the delivery of safety equipment from an unspecified third country as a secondary reason for the decision.

Iranian officials denied that payments had been delayed. “Iran has had no delay whatsoever in making payments for the Bushehr nuclear power plant,” Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was quoted by Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA as saying after the Russian decision.

A senior Iranian official confirmed in an interview last week that Mr. Ivanov had threatened Iran with an ultimatum that the fuel will be delivered only after Iran’s enrichment of uranium at Natanz are frozen.

“We would be crazy at this late date to endanger the project by not paying,” the official said. “There is no financial problem. The Russians want to use this issue as a bargaining chip.”

I personally do not care why Russia is taking a hard stance against Iran, it is about time.

From Hot Air:

As for why Russia might suddenly have decided to put the screws to Iran, I honestly have no idea. It’s late in the game for them suddenly to be worrying about nuclear jihad. I can only assume we bought off Putin somehow; Captain Ed thinks so too. Whatever it is, it’s nice to know we won’t be the only target of his grandstanding tomorrow at the UN.

From Captain's Quarters:

Something tells me that Putin's motivation comes from something other than a collections-agency status on the bill. He sank a lot of Russia's international influence into kowtowing to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Putin's Great Game aspirations of late seem more important than an unpaid bill or two. He bought real influence in Teheran, or so he thought, with the Bushehr plant.

Some calculations have changed in Moscow. Putin had been almost the only substantive foreign support for Ahmadinejad, besides China, which needs Iranian oil. Some other pressure point must have been hit by the West. Perhaps someone mentioned Russia's G-8 status, or maybe other commercial issues got worked in Putin's favor. What is obvious is that Ahmadinejad placed all his eggs in the Russian nuclear basket, and for the moment he has come up empty.

Its apparent cancellation puts Ahmadinejad in a tough spot. He sold the nuclear-power plant as a major victory against Western opposition, especially the Great Satan itself, the US. He even put a nuclear symbol on the latest currency note to brag about Iran's ascension to the top tier of nations -- at least in the category of offensive weaponry. Now Russia and Putin have pulled the rug out from underneath him, and the entire Iranian nation will witness the pratfall.

What happens if Ahmadinejad cannot deliver nuclear power? He has forced Iranians to suffer through economic sanctions that multiplied economic problems Ahmadinejad created on his own. If the entire reason for their suffering produces nothing but Russian IOUs, he will lose what little political support he has, perhaps even with the mullahs themselves. They may jettison him rather than face the angry mobs of Iranians that will form when they realize they've been had.

So, will Russia continue along this path to help the international community stop Ahmadinejad or will they once again back off when the timing is crucial.

Guess time will tell, but for now, this is good news.

Whoever pissed in Putin's cereal, Thanks!!!!!