Until Wednesday, Nov. 11, there was no outward sign that the US and Russian presidents, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, had reached an accommodation. But then, the first ripples broke surface.
Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili imposed a 15-day state of emergency to quell violent clashes which he accused the Russians of fomenting as a coup attempt.
All of a sudden, Georgia’s opposition leader Davit Usupashvili told his supporters to calm down and call off their protests.
The crisis was defused by two outside actions, revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Moscow. Russian intelligence agents in contact with the Georgian opposition told them to pipe down, while, according to our Washington sources, Dan Fried of the State Department called President Saakashvili and demanded that he desist from force against the protesters and tone down his allegations against Moscow.
Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, was treated to a case of renewed Russian-US collaboration.
It was not the first. American officials have quietly informed the Azerbaijan ruler Ilkham Aliyev that they have withdrawn their opposition to Russia’s role in the new pipeline for carrying Azeri oil and gas to Europe and the Middle East.
Neither will Washington demur if Aliyev decides to purchases arms in Moscow for modernizing his army and, building up a ground and naval elite force for defending the region of the Caspian port of Baku.
These are but the first tentative steps, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources say. President Bush’s new policy experiment faces its first big test very soon over Iran. Sanctions were at the forefront of talks this week with his European visitors, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and next week with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
American and French intelligence teams, most of them experts on Iran’s nuclear program, spent hours this week compiling a list of Iran’s secret sites to put before the International Atomic Energy director Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei.
Will Putin level with Washington on Iran too?
Their purpose: To prove to him that, just as his watchdogs failed to detect the Syrian nuclear project, so too they have fallen down on getting to the bottom of Iran’s nuclear misdemeanors. In fact, the inspectors are accused of being so fixated on Iran’s overt nuclear operations that they have not found a word to say about the military installations which are hidden underground and which they have missed.
The IAEA chief’s only reference to the clandestine weapons project of the Iranian program is that he has seen no proof of its existence.
The mixed American-French teams also dwelt on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s assertion Wednesday, Nov. 7, that Iran has completed 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
Both intelligence agencies have information that Iran is operating more than double that number, 7,000 to 8,000, which can produce enough enriched uranium for two or three bombs a year. They now face a dilemma: How to convey the locations of the clandestine sites to the nuclear watchdog without giving away double agents, who are their undercover sources.
US intelligence teams will work next week with German agents arriving in Washington with the Chancellor.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that now, for the first time since the Bush administration fell out with ElBaradei four years ago over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Washington, followed by Paris and Berlin, is offering to release intelligence data on Iran’s nuclear program, to prove that the chief inspector is either mistaken or deliberately throwing sand in Western eyes as Israel claims.
This openness is directed at paving the way for the UN Security Council’s third round of sanctions against Iran.
The question now being asked in the corridors of the White House is this: Will Putin follow Sarkozy and Merkel in ordering his intelligence services to collaborate with their American opposite numbers and share information on Iran’s secret nuclear sites and the operations concealed there?
The Americans do not expect Russian intelligence to part with everything they have, but they do hope for an important contribution that would give substance to the improved relations between the US and Russian presidencies.
If Putin lives up to this expectation, the way will be open for Russia to vote in favor of tough sanctions against Iran, leading to broader horizons of Russian-US cooperation on other issues.
For the Russian president, the top priority would be Washington’s revision of its plan to deploy missile interceptor systems in East Europe.