Russia Says They Will Not Toughen Policy Toward Iran - February, 2009

It has become quite obvious now that Moscow has been using its close relationship with Tehran as a bargaining chip when dealing with Washington. We can expect Moscow to continue using its arms delivery to Iran as a way to extract concessions from Washington.



Russia Says They Will Not Toughen Policy Toward Iran

February, 2009

Russia does not intend to toughen its policy toward Iran regarding its nuclear program, a senior Russian diplomat said Monday. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it's necessary to intensify international efforts to reach a political settlement of the Iranian nuclear standoff. But Ryabkov added that Russia has no intention to take a harsher attitude to Iran, Russian news agencies reported. "Our stance on the Iranian nuclear program has no elements which could be interpreted as toughening of approach," Ryabkov was quoted as saying. The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting terrorism and secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons — charges that Iran denies. Russia has developed close ties with Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant. Moscow has supported limited U.N. sanctions on Iran, but opposed the U.S. push for tougher measures.

President Barack Obama has signaled a new willingness to engage Iran, whose relations with the Bush administration were long strained. Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Najar arrived in Moscow late Monday for talks with his Russian counterpart on bilateral military ties, the Interfax news agency reported. Russia has supplied weapons to Iran, despite U.S. and Israeli complaints. However, Russian officials have rejected claims that they have provided Iran with powerful S-300 air defense missiles. Anatoly Isaikin, head of the Russian Rosoboronexport state arms-selling monopoly, was quoted in an interview published earlier this month as saying that it had not supplied S-300s to Iran yet but was ready to do so if ordered by the government.

Interfax said that Najar will likely push for delivery of S-300s during his visit to Russia. Ryabkov said Monday that ending the Iranian nuclear standoff could also help advance U.S.-Russian talks on possible cooperation on missile defense. "As soon as there is a shift toward restoring confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, opportunities will open for deeper talk on prospects for cooperation on missile defense," Ryabkov said. "We are studying signals from the U.S. administration, and, for our part, have made proposals on how we can cooperate in the missile defense field."

Russia has fiercely opposed plans by George W. Bush's administration to deploy a battery of missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic. Moscow has rejected the U.S. claims that the sites were intended to counter prospective missile threats from Iran, saying the facilities threaten Russia's security. The Kremlin has voiced hope that Obama's administration will dump the missile defense plans. Obama has not said how he intends to proceed. But he has stressed that the system has to be cost-effective and proven and that it should not divert resources from other national security priorities.


Russia to Fire up Iranian Reactor

Russian nuclear experts have confirmed they are likely to fire up Iran's first nuclear power plant by the end of 2009. Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom said the first stage would be a "technical start-up" to test the reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr plant. Some Western powers are concerned that Tehran may be building a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies this. Russia insists the Bushehr plant is for purely civilian use, and cannot be used for military purposes. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Rosatom, said the technical launch was on track to take place this year, and safety was the absolute priority. "We will carry out as many tests as needed," he said. The building of Iran's first nuclear plant has been beset by delays and difficulties. It was first started in the 1970s by the German firm, Siemens. But that stage of the project was disrupted by the Islamic revolution of 1979 and then further delayed by the war between Iran and Iraq that ended in 1988. Since the Russians took on the completion of the plant, in 1995, Bushehr has been the cause of occasional friction between Russia and countries like the United States which oppose the possible acquisition by Iran of nuclear weapons.


Kremlin Must Decide on Sales of S-300 to Iran

A decision on the delivery of advanced air defense systems to Iran can only be taken by the Russian leadership, the head of Russia's state arms exporter said on Wednesday. There has been significant media speculation of late concerning possible negotiations between Moscow and Tehran on the delivery of S-300 (SA-20 Gargoyle) air defense systems to the Islamic Republic. "In relation to the discussion of possible deliveries of S-300 air defense systems [to Iran] I would like to reiterate that if the Russian president and the government adopt such a decision, Rosoboronexport will have to implement it," Rosoboronexport's general director Anatoly Isaikin said in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He insisted that the military and technical cooperation that Russia was developing with Iran was transparent, and complied fully with international and Russian laws. "We are doing everything absolutely openly and in accordance with the current legislation," the official said. "Before we can send even a pistol, even a round of ammunition abroad, we have to coordinate the issue with a number of state bodies and receive their permission." "Therefore, only a decision at the highest political level can give us the 'green light' to start contract negotiations," Isaikin said.

The advanced version of the S-300 missile system, called S-300PMU1, has a range of over 150 kilometers (over 100 miles) and can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes, making the system an effective tool for warding off possible air strikes. Media reports on possible S-300 delivery to Iran have alarmed the U.S. and Israel, which have consistently refused to rule out the possibility of military action against Tehran. The systems could greatly improve Iranian defenses against any air strike on its strategically important sites, including nuclear facilities. Iran recently took delivery of 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700-million contract signed in late 2005. Russia has also trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders.


In related news:

Iranian Defense Minister in Moscow 'to Talk S-300 Missile Deal'

Iran's defense minister is likely to discuss the delivery of Russian S-300 air defense systems to the Islamic Republic during a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday, a business daily said. Russia's Kommersant said Moscow had signed an S-300 contract with Tehran, but would not rush to implement it due to a seeming thaw in Russia's relations with the new U.S. administration. Iranian media have repeatedly said, citing senior security officials, that Russia has started delivering elements of the advanced version of the S-300 missile with a range of over 150 kilometers (over 100 miles). The reports have alarmed the U.S. and Israel, both of which have refused to rule out the possibility of military action against Tehran, accusing it of a failure to obey international nuclear non-proliferation demands. However, Russia has dismissed the reports. "We do not supply any offensive weapons to Iran, and accusing Russia and Iran of cooperation that undermines regional security is unjust," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said ahead of his visit that Tehran would negotiate the delivery of S-300 missiles "when it is necessary." In an official statement, the Islamic Republic's Defense Ministry said: "During his trip to Russia, the Iranian defense minister will hold talks with Russian officials and visit a number of defense industry companies. The main purpose of the visit is the expansion of bilateral [military-technical] ties and the implementation of existing agreements in the military-technical sector." "The contract on the S-300 could be fulfilled any time," Kommersant said, citing an unidentified Russian defense official. "New deals are in the offing. Talks on Buk-M1 medium-range missile systems are continuing. However there has been no political decision, necessary for the deals to go ahead."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to meet with the new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in March. The meeting is seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington, strained of late over a host of issues, including U.S. plans to deploy missile shield elements in Central Europe, which Russia strongly opposes. Media reports said the new U.S. administration was seeking a compromise on the missile shield dispute that would be linked to Russia's cooperation in preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb. The "Iranian threat" was one of the reasons cited for the missile shield. Iran recently took delivery of 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700-million contract signed in late 2005. Russia has also trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders.


Russian Missile Defence to Iran on Hold Till Meeting With Obama

Russian authorities have put on hold a secret contract with Iran. The contract, which is believed to have been signed in 2005, planned to arm the Islamic Republic with the famous S-300 air-defence missile systems. The latest move comes ahead of talks between the Russian and American presidents set for April 2009. Iran’s defence minister Mostafa Mohammad Hajjar, a veteran of the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, arrived in Moscow on Monday for talks on the supply of Russian arms to Iran, particularly the S-300 systems. However, as reported in Kommersant Daily, Moscow will not deliver the missile systems for some time, at least not before the first meeting of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and American counterpart Barack Obama, a historic event widely expected to melt the ice in Russia-US relations and restart a dialogue between the two sides.

Iran does not follow resolutions of the UN Security Council concerning its nuclear programme and that fact alone is enough to put Russia in an awkward position if it delivers S-300s to Iran now. So far, Moscow and Tehran have fulfilled only one contract in air defence dating back to 2005 when Russia sold Iran 29 Thor-M1 middle-range missile air-defence systems for US$700 million. Since then, Tehran has showed intense interest in S-300 systems and even signed a secret contract for delivery of 5 divisions of S-300s for US$800 million. But despite the fact that the contract has been initialised and Iran expresses its readiness to pay, Moscow has delayed the supply for political reasons as the question of arming Iran with the newest defence systems greatly alarms America’s principle Middle East ally, Israel.

Nerves of nylon, nerves of steel

It’s not just once that the Iranian authorities have jumped the gun and declared that S-300s have already been delivered and deployed, claims always refuted by Russia. The last such instance was on December 22, 2008. Iran desperately needs the S-300s to protect the almost completed Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is likely to be a high priority target in the event of military conflict with Israel. If S-300 systems are deployed near Bushehr, Israel will be unable to conduct air strikes without response as it did in 1981, when it destroyed a nuclear reactor in Iraq, as well as in 2007, when it took out a supposedly nuclear target in Syria. At the same time Russian experts doubt whether Israel would dare to conduct an air strike against Iranian nuclear targets. “Israel does not have a reason for such an assault since Iran does not have and, in the near future, will not have nuclear arms, and the US seems to be looking for a political resolution with Iran, Israel will not do the dirty on Obama’s administration” says political analyst Aleksandr Pikayev from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

Russia does not supply only military products to Iran. The construction of a nuclear power plant in Bushehr is just another example for this. “For Russia, Iran is a friendly state. Russia is in constant dialogue with Iran, advising it to comply with its international obligations. Clever people in Washington understand that Russia has vast interests in Iran because it is an ally and strategic friend and neighbour, so it is natural that Russia extends some commercial projects in Iran” commented military expert Viktor Mizin from the Moscow Institute of International Affairs. It is true that five S-300 missile systems could secure the skies above Bushehr nuclear power plant, but it looks really doubtful that Moscow will put at risk the opportunity of improving the severely damaged relations with Washington.

This means that this time the Iranian delegation may leave Moscow without any tangible results. However, the political situation is subject to change, which means that the fate of Iranian air defence literally depends on what Barack Obama has to propose to Dmitry Medvedev in April this year. “There is no doubt that the deadlock of Iran’s nuclear programme will be among the top priorities at these talks and that this question definitely needs re-examination from both the US and Iran to bring positive results,” says Pikaev. In turn, it is obvious that American leadership is planning to take a diplomatic pause till June when Iran will elect a new president and if it turns out to be someone less irreconcilable like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then the US will deal directly with the Iranian authorities.


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