Πέμπτη, 21 Ιανουαρίου 2010

Cold spell in Russian-Iranian relations..?

Cold spell in Russian-Iranian relations

(Vladimir Yevseyev for RIA Novosti) - On January 19 of this year Iran's government prohibited a Russian plane carrying a Su-27SKM fighter (a modernized export version of the basic model) from flying over its territory to Bahrain, which was hosting the Bahrain International Airshow (BIAS-2010). Although permission was granted by the end of the day, this indicates a cooling, rather than merely an annoying misunderstanding, in Russian-Iranian steadily developing relations.The first signs of deterioration appeared in the middle of last June when blatant electoral fraud sparked widespread unrest in the Islamic Republic. Several days later Yekaterinburg played host to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, at which Iran has observer status. At the summit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put Russia in an awkward position by forcing it to recognize his victory in the elections. This in turn drew fierce criticism of Moscow from the Iranian opposition. However, Russia supported Ahmadinejad with a view to developing a relationship of trust, particularly in such sensitive areas as the arms trade and the nuclear power industry.

Another event indicating that a chill was in the air took place in late September when President Dmitry Medvedev learned, from his American counterpart, about the secret construction of a new uranium-enrichment plant near Qom, a Shiite holy city in Iran. Russia started to doubt the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. For a long time Russia had not only saved Iran from tough Security Council sanctions but also continued cooperating with Iran in the nuclear power industry, despite strong Western pressure. As a consequence, Medvedev had to agree to the potential imposition of sanctions on Iran.An opportunity to improve bilateral relations appeared at the first seven-party talks (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and Iran) that took place in Geneva on October 1, 2009. Tehran agreed to the inspection of the facility under construction in Qom and that took place in late October.

Furthermore, a package of proposals on enriching Iran's low enriched uranium (LEU) abroad was drafted by representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran, France, Russia and the United States in Vienna on October 21.This package satisfies Iran's national interests because the relevant Security Council resolutions prevent Iran from buying nuclear fuel abroad. In addition, in October Moscow hoped to step up its military technical cooperation with Iran, in particular, to supply it with five battalions of S-300 PMU1 medium- and long-range air defense missiles. A contract to this effect was signed several years ago but politics impeded its implementation.When Tehran agreed to export considerable amounts of stockpiled nuclear materials, the mood throughout the international community lightened. This proved essential for Russia. However, Iran started undermining the deal with a view to keeping LEU on its territory. After enriching the LEU Iran could produce more than 60 kg of weapons-grade uranium (25 kg are enough for one nuclear bomb).

Moreover, Tehran expressed its obvious mistrust of Moscow by agreeing that its LEU under IAEA control should go to Turkey rather than Russia. It started adding new terms to the deal, making its implementation increasingly difficult.These tensions in Russian-Iranian relations were further exacerbated in December when Ahmadinejad instructed his administration to assess the damage done to his country in the 1940s by the members of the anti-Nazi coalition: the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain. No doubt, this was done with a view to making financial claims to these three countries.The future for bilateral relations does not look bright. Before long, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano is likely to publish a tougher report on Iran. Tehran continues to support such radical Islamic groups as Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and rarely plays a positive role in resolving Iraqi, Afghan, Lebanese and Yemeni problems. The absence of strong economic contacts and the Iranian opposition's negative attitude to Moscow make the prospect of better relations even more unlikely.Vladimir Yevseyev is a research fellow with the International Security Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations

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