Washington’s Deal with Iran Vexes Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is cross with his erstwhile partner-in-Afghanistan, President George W. Bush. For him, the hush-hush agreement Washington has just concluded for bringing Iran’s hardline rulers on board the American offensive against Iraq was a nasty shock.

Reporting this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources note that for months, the Americans have been leaning on the Russian leader to halt the lucrative and massive assistance Moscow has been extending Tehran for the construction of Iranian nuclear installations at Bushehr and its involvement in Iran’s missile program. One US official after another argued that it was dangerous to let the ayatollahs come so near to achieving nuclear armament.

Putin used those same arguments to convince his generals and intelligence chiefs that the understanding between him and Bush, forged after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and begetting their close cooperation in the Afghan War, was founded on solid ground, reciprocal interests and mutual trust. Therefore, it was worth the Kremlin’s while to be flexible in the face of Washington’s demands, including implicit Russian support for the US campaign against Saddam Hussein.

Russia’s generals and other top Kremlin officials remained skeptical. They as well as Putin regarded the proof of his friendship with Bush as being the stake on offer to Moscow in post-war Iraqi oil. Only this would make it worth while for Russia to abandon its traditional bonds with Baghdad and Saddam’s intelligence chiefs.

On September 20, Bush invited Russian foreign and defense ministers, Igor Ivanov and Sergei Ivanov, to the Oval Office in an aggressive bid for Moscow to second a new tougher Iraq resolution at the UN Security Council. The two Russian officials countered with questions on the issue of Iraqi oil. When no clear reply was forthcoming, the Russians stayed with their position that no new Iraq resolution was necessary. Before considering military action, they urged getting the arms inspectors back into Iraq as quickly as possible.

This posture was tantamount to fence-sitting with regard to Washington’s war plans.

That same day, the US president followed up his meeting with the two Russian ministers by a phone call direct to his opposite number at the Kremlin.

It then became evident that in order to clear the air between them, a face-to-face encounter would be necessary.

Such a summit has become even more pressing in view of Putin’s sense of affront from the Washington-Tehran deal and certain jarring incidents occurring over recent weeks. Putin is fuming in particular over the US president’s refusal to support Moscow in its four-year battle against Chechen separatists as a quid pro quo for Russian backing on Iraq. The Russian leader has not forgiven Bush for personally slapping him down after he formally notified the United Nations that, if Georgia did not deal with the Chechens taking refuge in the Pankisi Gorge, Russian troops would take care of them. Washington is clearly concerned with its bases in Georgia which are vital for the attack on Iraq.

Thursday, September 26, 17 Russian servicemen were killed, including the crew of a Mi-24 helicopter gunship hit by a shoulder-launched rocket, fired by Chechen guerillas who had thrust in from Georgia some days earlier. News film taken this month showed well-armed Chechens, including turbaned rebel leader Ruslan Gelayev, crossing into Russia from Georgia. Some were shouting Allah is Great!

There is also some grumbling in Moscow over the American-backed $2.9 billion Baku-Ceylan oil pipeline the construction of whose first section was inaugurated on September 18. By bypassing Russia, the project will diminish Moscow’s traditional influence in the energy-rich Caspian region in its back yard.

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