Putin Turns His Face to Tehran, His Back to Bush and Sarkozy

Iran’s suspect nuclear program is further polarizing the big powers.
As American and European officials discussed a third round of UN Security Council sanctions, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, more pugnacious than ever, addressed a military parade Sat. Sept. 22 marking the 27th anniversary of the onset of the Iraq-Iran war of the eighties.
“Those (countries) who assume that decaying methods such as psychological war, political propaganda and the so-called economic sanctions would work and prevent Iran’s fast drive towards progress are mistaken.”
“The Iranian nation is ready to bring any oppressive power to its knees,” read a slogan from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, inscribed on a massive board on a truck as a new, improved long-range, 1,800-km range surface missile trundled by.
Other slogans called for “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Western military attaches, apparently warned in advance, boycotted the rally for the second year running.
But there is no escape: These are the messages Ahmadinejad takes with him this week to the UN General Assembly and Columbia University in New York.
The French president Nicolas Sarkozy meanwhile stands shoulder to shoulder with President George W. Bush. Friday, Sept. 21, he said: “Iran is trying to obtain an atomic bomb. That is unacceptable and I tell the French people it is unacceptable.”
A week ago, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner warned that the world faced war if diplomacy and sanctions failed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities.
But Vladimir Putin pulled in the opposite direction from his two fellows in the UN Security Council when he decided to be the first Russian president to visit Tehran on Oct. 16. The visit, in the framework of the Caspian Asian Summit, is planned to encompass much more than state ceremonial and ritual photo-ops, although there will be plenty of that too.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO), Reza Aghazadeh, said a document would be signed setting the timeline for Russia to complete the long-delayed Bushehr nuclear plant and deliver the fuel to activate it.
Last week, at the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranian and Russian teams began formulating the document to be signed by their heads of state. Reporting this, Aghazadeh also described a most useful conversation he had with the head of Russian’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Sergei Kiriyenko.
In its long dispute with Moscow, Tehran claims Russia had contracted to commission the Bushehr plant in 2000. This was later amended and under the fifth agreement negotiated between Tehran and Moscow, Russia undertook to deliver 90 tons of fuel by March 2007 and commission Bushehr nuclear plant by September 2007.
According to debkafile‘s sources in Moscow and Washington, the Russian president had four goals in sight when he decided to settle his dispute with the Islamic Republic and join the rulers of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan at the Caspian Sea Summit in Tehran:
1. He will be on hand to underscore Moscow’s concern and conviction that the last two or three months of 2007 will take the controversy over the Iranian nuclear program to crisis point and could determine whether or not America resorts to the military option.
The Russians have marked this period as crunch time for the international community. The UN and its Security Council will have to decide then between two options: endorse the IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei’s deal with Tehran, under which Iran promises to open up secret compartments of its program to international inspection, or else support the tougher economic sanctions advocated by the United States.
Our Washington sources report that administration heads accuse ElBaradei of practicing deceit and underhand machinations for the sake of giving Iran more time for large-scale uranium enrichment up to weapons grade, safe from the threat of a third round of sanctions until after President Bush departs the White House in Jan. 2009.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made no bones about the low esteem in which the chief nuclear inspector is held by the administration when she said Sept 19: “Diplomacy is best left to diplomats, not a technical body such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
This view is fully endorsed by Israel.
2. The Russian and Iranian presidents will publicly sign a new nuclear accord, attended by international television and media hype. This is a ploy to reposition Russia in Arab and Muslim eyes. Putin wants to demonstrate that Moscow has no objection to supplying a Muslim nation with a nuclear reactor, technology and fuel, in contrast to Washington, which is willing to go as far as military action to thwart such acquisitions.
3. The Russians are uneasy about the new Washington-Paris alliance. They were alarmed by the outspoken rhetoric coming from Sarkozy and Kouchner slamming Iran and aligning with the US – up to and including military conflict.
Putin sees the French president moving into position as Bush’s leading foreign partner in place of Britain’s Tony Blair as a portent of a potential American-European fence to block off Moscow’s influence in Europe. He links this potential with Washington’s plan to set up missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic and perceives a strong line forming on the map of Europe that threatens to reverse his diplomatic gains on the continent and circumscribe his drive for the control of its supplies of energy.
These issues were undoubtedly thrashed out when the French foreign minister met his Russian opposite number Sergey Lavrov in Moscow last week.
4. Sitting together at the head of the table at the Caspian Sea Summit next month, Putin and Ahmadinejad will be broadcasting a message to Washington and the nations of Central Asia that the future and security of Caspian and Central Asian natural resources and oil do not depend entirely on their relations Washington, or even the US military bases going up on their soil. Russia will be posing a stiff challenge to America in Central Asia by holding out the offer of joint-strategic sponsorship with Iran.

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