Are Europe and Russia Ganging up on America over Iran?

The international ensemble dancing around Iran’s nuclear program appears to have regrouped: the European Union and Russia are suddenly lining up against America barely a week after US President George W. Bush held talks in Europe to patch up differences with both.
European officials said Monday February 28 they had no problem with the deal Moscow signed two days earlier to sell Iran nuclear fuel for bringing Iran’s Bushehr reactor on line. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, after talks with EU leaders, urged Americans to take a “more active” role in European diplomatic efforts with Iran.
This is not going down well in Washington. While Europe is proposing new incentives for bringing Tehran round, such as coveted World Trade Organization membership, John McCain wants Moscow thrown out the elite G-8 club.
The crisscross movement began the minute Air Force One took off from Europe for Washington last Thursday, February 24. It was then that a private plane landed in Paris and the man who stepped out briskly was Iran’s supreme national security council director and senior nuclear negotiator Hasan Rohani. He was taken straight to the Elysee Palace where he was awaited by president Jacques Chirac. He then flew to Berlin to meet German foreign minister Joschke Fischer.
When the Iranian official took off for home, he left his European hosts with the misapprehension that Iran would be willing to forgo uranium enrichment in return for the generous political, security and economic concessions France and Germany (though not Britain, which has little faith in this deal working) were holding out: the latest Airbus, telecommunications equipment as well as the supreme economic perk of WTO membership. The two leaders told Rohani that their meeting with the US president in Brussels had convinced them they could sell him the deal.
Rohani returned to Tehran in time to receive Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Federal Energy Agency, who had come to sign the nuclear fuel delivery agreement Moscow had avoided for two years. debkafile reported on the day that the Russians not only agreed to let Iran have nuclear fuel rods, but also promised to complete the Bushehr reactor’s core by the end of the year, giving Iran its first functioning nuclear reactor in 2005.
During the signing ceremony inside the Bushehr center, Rumyantsev said: This is a very important incident in the ties between the two countries and in the near future a number of Russian experts will be sent to Bushehr to equip the power station.” He said the first batch of fuel was in Siberia ready to be shipped. According to the information reaching debkafile, the Iranians expect this batch to be delivered by the end of April.
The Russian president Vladimir Putin sent Rumyantsev to Tehran straight after his talks with the US president in Bratislava. This rapid succession of events raises questions about the content of their talks. Did Bush agree to Russia going ahead with this critical step? Or was it on the contrary an act of provocation by the Kremlin against American policy on the Iranian – and therefore the North Korean – nuclear program? Or perhaps the Russians sought to be a step ahead of France and Germany?
According to debkafile‘s intelligence and Washington sources, the rationale behind this rush of events is simple: The Bush administration had decided to put the issue of uranium enrichment to one side after concluding that Iran has already secretly procured sufficient fissile material to make a bomb or warheads for nuclear missiles; Tehran is most likely in possession of most of the quantity it needs – or else has access to the missing portion. Therefore the offensive against enrichment has become almost irrelevant.
This is the background to the disclosures appearing in American newspapers about the offer the Pakistani nuclear black marketeer Abdul Qadeer Khan made to Iran as early as1987 of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of nuclear technology. A.Q.Khan is now known to have made the same offer plus weapons-grade fissile materials to Libya and North Korea. Washington is taking it for granted that Tehran made its acquisitions from the Pakistani scientists ahead of Libya.
In his talks with European leaders, therefore, Bush did not make a song and dance about the uranium enrichment issue. Instead, he laid stress on their common consent that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. In Bratislava, he declared alongside Putin: “We agreed that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. We agreed that North Korea should not have a nuclear weapon.”
In other words, while the Iranians and Europeans were still bickering over uranium enrichment, the US president was looking ahead to the final stage of the weapon’s manufacture.
Sunday, February 27, at the IAEA board meeting in Vienna, the EU demanded Iran make uranium suspension permanent. Senior Iranian delegate Sirus Naseri retorted that Tehran would never give up enrichment. If the Europeans do not accept a compromise, “they will have to opt for a confrontation, as the US seems to prefer, which will lead to an uncertain situation with unforeseeable consequences for everyone.” The US delegate stood aside.
The Russian move is also partly motivated by Putin’s increasing concern about being left by the wayside in the Middle East by the Europeans – witness Lavrov’s promise to sell heavy weapons including APCs to the Palestinians. So Putin took advantage of Bush’s position and jumped in fast with its fuel-for-Bushehr deal. Aside from the political advantages accruing to Moscow, an $800 million transaction is not to be sneezed at.
All these maneuverings and counter-moves make Iran the gift of a time to advance steadily on its goal, which is to reach the point of no return on its road to a nuclear bomb.

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