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Iran Report: June 19, 2007

Tehran Says It Has Kremlin Assurance It Won't Share Radar With U.S.

Qabala radar station

June 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Iranian Foreign Ministry says it has received assurances that Moscow willl not let the United States share a Russian radar facility in Azerbaijan as part of a missile shield against Iran -- despite an offer by President Vladimir Putin to U.S. President George W. Bush to do exactly that.

The ministry says Russia has no intention of allowing the Americans to use the radar base. Was Putin bluffing when he made the offer to the United States?

Surprise Announcement

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini's comments came as a surprise to journalists attending the June 17 news conference in Tehran.

It raises the possibility that the Russian offer was bogus and that Putin was merely maneuvering to occupy the high ground in the dispute over the antimissile system.

Hosseini said that Russian officials have privately assured Iran that the Kremlin will not let the United States use a radar base at Qabala (Gabala), Azerbaijan, as part of an antimissile system which the Americans are planning to place in Central Europe.

This assertion -- if true -- runs directly counter to an offer made publicly by Putin to Bush at the G8 summit in Germany earlier this month.

Putin said that instead of developing an entirely new radar station in the Czech Republic, the United States could use the powerful Russian facility at Qabala.

The radar is meant to be part of a U.S. antimissile shield designed to intercept Iranian or North Korean missiles fired at Europe or the United States. However, Moscow has strongly objected to the Czech base, saying it would be able also to track Russian missiles.

The Putin offer of a joint base would enable the United States to watch Iran, while Russian personnel at the site could ensure that they did not also monitor Russian missile activity.

Is Putin's Offer Serious...

But senior Iran analyst Peter Lehr says he doesn't believe Putin's offer was serious. Lehr, of the Iranian Studies Department of St. Andrews University in Scotland, points out the complication of having non-NATO personnel responsible for the security of NATO countries.

"Imagine this station is in Azerbaijan, with Azerbaijani and Russian crew operating there, together with Americans," he said. "Well, that's an organizational nightmare."

American officials have already downplayed the offer on security grounds and indicated that Washington will proceed with plans to build the Czech facility.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a NATO news conference in Brussels after meeting Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, made that clear.

"I was very explicit in the meeting that we saw the Azeri radar as an additional capability, and that we intend to proceed with the radar, the X-band radar, in the Czech Republic," he said.

...Or A Hoax?

Russia is not confirming the Iranian version of events. But it raises the possibility that the Russian offer was bogus and that Putin was merely maneuvering to occupy the high ground in the dispute over the antimissile system.

Anticipating a U.S. rejection of his offer, Putin could say that Russia had gone out of its way to offer a solution but that Washington had not been willing to accept it.

Vafa Quluzade, a former national security adviser in Azerbaijan, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on June 7 that he felt Russia was perpetrating a hoax.

"Putin proposed it to the United States knowing that the United States is not interested in establishing [those] kinds of radar systems in Azerbaijan," he said.

Iran does not currently have a missile capable of reaching the United States. Some experts believe it's longest range missile, the Shahab-3, can travel about 1,300 kilometers and could reach some parts of Eastern and Southern Europe as well as southern Russia.

Iran: Lawmakers Reject Nearby Missile-Shield Presence

By Vahid Sepehri
June 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian politicians have responded disapprovingly to a Russian proposal that the United States deploy components of a proposed antiballistic-missile shield in Azerbaijan instead of Central Europe. Those comments appear to expose distrust among Iranian politicians of Moscow, an ostensible ally often perceived as prepared to make deals with Washington over Iran's interests.

Reactions also suggest dissatisfaction with neighboring Azerbaijan -- of whom Iran is wary, given its potential influence, and at times suspected mischief-making, with Iran's population of Azeri Turks.

Comments on Russia have shown the perception of Russia as wily -- even cryptic in its intentions -- and Machiavellian in the pursuit of its interests.

One legislator said Russian President Vladimir Putin's missile-shield offer was akin to calling the U.S. bluff: If the missile shield is aimed at a hypothetical threat from "rogue" states like Iran or North Korea -- and not Russia -- then why not place it nearer to those threats?

One member of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Hamid Reza Haji-Babai, on June 12 called Putin's proposal "a joke against Bush's policies" and "entirely unrealistic and unfeasible." Haji-Babai claimed that "Russia knows that America's missile shield in Europe is not for Iran," and that the proposal is a bid to reveal what the legislator called a new round of U.S.-propelled global "militarization." But like many commentators, Haji-Babai was not entirely convinced the proposal was not also a jab at Iranian interests.

'Containing' Tehran

The same committee's deputy head, Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, said the same day that the proposal could be to avoid U.S. installations in Poland or the Czech Republic. But Rudaki said it could also indicate an agreement between Russia and the United States to "contain" Iran, ISNA reported. He said Russia should neither "degrade" itself before the United States nor "stand with the forceful powers."

Another member of the committee, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, said Russia's perspective on Iran "has always been based on deal-making," according to ISNA on June 12. Falahatpisheh accused the Russians of having "sold Iran" in "grand agreements" in the past, referring perhaps to Russia's tendency to accommodate Western powers in voting against Iran's nuclear program at the United Nations. But Falahatpisheh said Iran "is beyond" the type of states over which Russia can make deals. He said Iran's "interaction" with Europe shows that it poses no threat to EU states.

Another member of the parliamentary National Security Committee, Reza Talai-Nik, said Russia may well be concerned over its security, but alleged that Putin's proposal on using a radar base in Azerbaijan followed "past tactics" and a Russian tendency to extract concessions from both Iran and the West, Fars News Agency reported on June 12. He said Tehran should respond firmly and sensibly to any new intelligence and military installation near its border. He also urged unspecified diplomatic initiatives with neighboring countries to prevent the realization of the proposal.

Suspicious Of Baku

Parliamentarians have also voiced suspicions about Baku and expressed irritation with a perceived enthusiasm in Azerbaijan for hosting U.S. installations or equipment. Lawmaker Rudaki said Iran's relations with Azerbaijan have progressed in recent years, but he said Baku's welcoming of the Russian proposal was "effectively disrespectful" to regional peoples and would "certainly affect" Iranian-Azerbaijani political and economic ties, "Iran" reported on June 12.

National Security Committee member Ali Ahmadi said the "political regime" of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev lacks popular support. He accused Aliev of seeking support from "superior powers," adding that "even the Israelis have begun some activities in that country in recent years," "Iran" reported on June 11. Ahmadi said Iran should not be silent over the proposal and "Aliev's positive response."

Another legislator, Hasan Abbasi, said he could not understand why Azerbaijan had embraced a proposal that did not benefit the region, according to "Iran." Abbasi suggested that Iran had what he described as an "unkind" neighbor.

Tapping Tensions

Discussion of the shield seems to have coincided with -- or perhaps enhanced -- intermittent tensions over Azeris and ethnicity. On June 12, the representative for the northwestern Ardebil constituency, identified in a report as Noi-Aqdam, warned in parliament that Azerbaijani legislators should stop uttering "baseless and irrelevant" statements that he said were "cooked up by American and Israeli spy organizations," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 13. "Aftab-i Yazd" suggested that the offensive statements had been about Iranian Azeris or related to separatism.

There was a note of relief in the comments of some lawmakers, whose remarks suggested they did not think the United States or NATO would accept the Russian proposal to relocate the missile shield out of Central Europe.

The pro-government daily "Iran" presented the Putin proposal in a June 13 report as a last-ditch attempt to prevent the installation of a shield near its western border. It observed that the proposal met with "polite indifference" from the United States and noted a purported list of technical difficulties cited by U.S. officials that could make the proposal impractical.

The missile-defense issue has underlined some of the ongoing concerns of Iranian politicians: Iran's isolation, a fear that the great powers are perpetually inclined to strike "deals" over its head, and an essentially unreliable relationship with Russia. It is a partner -- by default, it seems -- but arguably it is hardly a friend. Add to this the irritant of Azerbaijan -- a new state with suspected claims or pretensions over the territory of its far more ancient neighbor, and which likes from time to time to flaunt its profitable and cordial relations with the West.

'Surprise' Proposal Was Planned
U.S. analyst Glen Howard discusses what might be behind Putin's radar offer. more
U.S. Ships In The Caspian?
A Russian military analyst says Putin's plan could include basing Aegis-equipped U.S. warships in the Caspian. more
What Does It Mean?
It looks like Putin understands Russia is too weak to compete with the United States. more

U.S. Warns Tehran Of Tough New Sanctions

By Breffni O'Rourke

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns (file photo)

June 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. diplomat warned Iran that it is facing the prospects of tough new sanctions "in the next week or two" unless it comes to the negotiating table on its nuclear program.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Iran has made a major miscalculation if it believes it has any support internationally for its actions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has given some details of Washington's little-publicized drive to cut off Iran from the global financial system.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Burns said Iran must be aware that continued refusal to stop uranium enrichment means it faces possible new sanctions -- both inside and outside the framework of the United Nations.

Burns said the UN Security Council is preparing a third package of sanctions that should be ready in a few weeks. He said Iran must sit down and negotiate on its nuclear ambitions, or face the consequences.

The Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran since December, but these were relatively mild in order to gain the support of Russia and China, two veto-holding council members with doubts about a policy of sanctions. The results appear to be correspondingly few.

The third package now under discussion at the UN will reportedly be tougher, possibly aimed at Iran's oil supplies. Burns' comments appear to indicate Washington's belief that Russia and China are already "on board" with the new package.

Iranian leaders have consistently dismissed the importance of sanctions, and said Iran will never give up uranium enrichment.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stuck to that line today at a rally in Semnan, a city east of Tehran.

"The Iranian nation does not give the slightest value to your resolutions," he told the crowd in a nationally televised speech.

Sanctions Bite

Separately, however, the United States has been working quietly on sanctions outside the UN forum, and these appear to be already biting deep into Iran's financial standing in the world.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a Washington briefing that U.S. Treasury officials have been in discussion with some 40 international banks, with the aim of getting them to curtail their business with Iran.

McCormack named as an example the case of Bank Sepah, a major Iranian banking institution.

"This is an institution which has billions of dollars in assets," McCormack said. "[But] it effectively cannot do business anymore in the international financial system."

Another example is how the German government has cut back its export credits to Iran by some 40 percent. And at the urging of the United States, other European countries and Japan are looking at the same course of action, involving tens of billions of dollars in credits.

"Once the [Iranians] get themselves in this kind of situation where the international banking system does not want to take their business, won't touch them, won't touch their money, that is it -- it has severe consequences, and it is very difficult to reverse," McCormack said.

Iranian businessmen confirm that the U.S. financial sanctions are having a practical impact. AP quoted the vice president of the Dubai-based Iranian Business Council, Nasser Hashempour, as saying that financing has become a major problem.

Hashempour said that "no one accepts Iranian letters of credit," adding that the situation has prompted Iranians to move "out of establish relations with foreign banks."

McCormack said Iran should know the situation will worsen unless the government in Tehran lives up to its responsibilities on the nuclear issue.

"Iran is soon going to find itself at a point where it will come very difficult for this regime to have a normal relationship with the international financial system," McCormack said. "It's already not normal, as indicated by the Bank Saleh. It's going to become increasingly more difficult for them, which has real consequences, has real financial implications for them."

Washington has also approached major energy companies -- notably Royal Dutch/Shell -- pointing out that they may come in for penalties on the U.S. market if they continue to be involved in big oil or gas development projects in Iran.

Iran: U.S. IAEA Envoy Says Time For Diplomacy Remains

U.S. IAEA envoy Gregory Schulte (file photo)

June 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United States' permanent representative international organizations in Vienna, Gregory Schulte, spoke with Radio Farda's Fatemeh Aman ahead of meetings of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) governing board, at which member states were expected to discuss Iran's disputed nuclear program.

RFE/RL: What do you expect from the IAEA board meeting?

Gregory Schulte: The board is meeting throughout this week and we are reviewing a report by the director-general [Muhammad el-Baradei] on Iran's nuclear activities. And this report documents two very disturbing trends. The first trend is the Iran's leadership is moving forward -- aggressively, defiantly, and despite three Security Council resolutions -- to develop a uranium-enrichment capability. And as you know, this is a capability that's not necessary for peaceful purposes but is necessary if you want to build a nuclear weapon. The second disturbing trend is that Iran continues to withdraw cooperation from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Most recently, Iran decided to not provide the IAEA with early design information on new nuclear facilities. And it also decided to deny IAEA inspectors access into a heavy-water reactor at Arak. These are concern to us and they also belie the statements by Iran's leaders that they're fully cooperating with the IAEA. Clearly they are not.

"We always hope for positive results because, after all, our goal is to get Iran into negotiations. We're prepared to negotiate with Iran on a major package of incentives if only Iran meets its international obligations."

RFE/RL: Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary and top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said recently, I think it was last week after his meeting with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, that Iran eventually would provide the IAEA with documents that they need. Do you think it still helps?

Schulte: I think the board of governors here in Vienna and the Security Council in New York have both laid out very clearly what Iran's leaders need to do. They need to meet their international obligations. And this means cooperating with the IAEA to answer troubling questions about their nuclear activities, and it also means suspending activities like enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building measure, because these are activities not necessary for civil purposes but are activities that give us great concern.

RFE/RL: Do you mean that whatever he provided, basically, whatever Iran provided to the IAEA, wouldn't count until Iran suspended enriching uranium?

Schulte: Well, Iran needs to do two things, and I think this has been laid out pretty clearly by the world community. It needs to suspend these activities of concern, and it needs to start cooperating with the IAEA. I've noticed that before every meeting of the IAEA board, Iran comes in and promises fuller cooperation with the IAEA. But...for every board meeting, they make this promise and then they produce nothing. I would like to see them actually start cooperation. That would be a very important step and then, next, they need to suspend these activities of concern.

RFE/RL: Could you please comment at this time on the protests by the United States and others to Mr. el-Baradei over his statement...that the push should not be to stop Iran's enriching capability but to leave Iran with some enrichment activity. Can you comment on this at this time?

Schulte: We work very closely with Muhammad el-Baradei. We have great respect for him and we appreciate his advice. Here is a case where the Security Council, three times, has required Iran to suspend uranium-enrichment activities. And we think this remains essential. And, in fact, first the foreign ministers and then the leaders of the [Group of Eight] have declared...that Iran needs to suspend, Iran needs to comply with the Security Council requirements.

RFE/RL: And do you expect any result from the meetings between the Solana and Larijani deputies on June 11 and next week?

Schulte: We always hope for positive results because, after all, our goal is to get Iran into negotiations. We're prepared to negotiate with Iran on a major package of incentives if only Iran meets its international obligations. So we would like these talks to have a positive outcome; we would like to be able to suspend further Security Council action. But this requires Iran to suspend its development of enrichment-related activities. So I'm reluctant to predict what will come out of these results. We hope for the best, but at this point with Iran moving forward defiantly with its uranium-enrichment activities, the members of the Security Council have made it fairly clear that the Security Council needs to take further action.

RFE/RL: And you have said in the past that the more time it takes for Iran to obey the UN resolutions, the more difficult it becomes to find a solution to resolve the crisis. So when is the time that you would say diplomacy has failed?

Schulte: We are determined to continue with the diplomacy, and I've mentioned to you before [that] we think there is time for diplomacy -- because even though Iran is working very hard to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability, we don't think they would be able to obtain nuclear weapons until early next decade at the earliest. So this gives us time for diplomacy, but it doesn't give us time for complacency. And we hope to convince the leadership in Tehran that what is best for them and what is best for the international community is to cooperate with the IAEA, is to negotiate with the U.S., Europe, Russia, and China, and is to suspend the activities of concern.

RFE/RL: These days we hear a lot about the possibility of military action both to stop Iran's nuclear program and to stop what Independent U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman called "Iran's activities inside Iraq." Do you think it's a wise thing to speak of military action while everybody is seeking a diplomatic solution?

Schulte: The goal is to achieve a diplomatic settlement. There's no question about that, and we're working very hard to do that. We're working with Russia, with China, with the countries of Europe, [and] we're working with the support of countries like India and Egypt, Brazil, and Argentina. The goal is to get a diplomatic settlement. We're not looking for a confrontation; we're looking for cooperation. We're looking for serious negotiations. But the leaders in Iran need to demonstrate through their actions that they're prepared for serious negotiations.

Iran: El-Baradei, U.S. Note Disturbing Developments As IAEA Board Meets

By Breffni O'Rourke

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei (file photo)

June 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Muhammad el-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program "needs to be defused." Speaking at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, said Iran has not responded to UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment and continued to expand its enrichment program.

He added that he is "increasingly disturbed" by the matter. Iran denies allegations it is covertly using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons.

Iran's nuclear program is at the center of a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna all this week.

El-Baradei says he is alarmed at the growing sense of confrontation between Tehran and the world powers, which he says could end in war.

The meeting opened June 11 with el-Baradei calling it "regrettable" and "disconcerting" that Iran is steadily perfecting its knowledge of the uranium-enrichment process while limiting cooperation with IAEA inspectors.

El-Baradei described Iran as the IAEA's primary arms proliferation concern. The UN Security Council had repeatedly ordered Iran to halt its uranium-enrichment program because of suspicions it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran has refused.

Washington's IAEA ambassador, Gregory Schulte, says a new IAEA report on Iran's nuclear activities documents two "very disturbing trends."

"The first trend is that Iran's leadership is moving forward aggressively, defiantly -- and despite three UN Security Council resolutions -- to develop uranium-enrichment capabilities," he said.

Latest reports indicate that Iran has developed a cascade of several thousand centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz. The Iranians claim to have successfully enriched uranium by several percentage points, but that is still well below the level required to make a nuclear bomb.

Schulte said that in addition, Iranian officials are restricting the access of IAEA inspectors to nuclear sites -- an "on again, off again" game which has been going on for several years.

"The second disturbing trend is that Iran continues to withdraw cooperation from the IAEA; most recently Iran decided not to supply the IAEA with early design information on new nuclear facilities and it also decided to deny IAEA inspectors access to a heavy-water reactor," he said.

Highlighting the apparent hardening of positions, Iran abruptly cancelled a meeting on June 11 set between its deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaidi, and IAEA officials. Reuters quotes diplomats in Vienna as saying Vaidi withdrew because he did not want to face IAEA questions about Iranian nuclear activities.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Vaidi (epa file photo)

Diplomats give the same reason for what they see as the inconsequential talks that have taken place between Vaidi and European Union officials -- that the Iranian did not want to discuss concrete issues.

Schulte indicated that it's time for Tehran to end such stalling tactics.

"Before every meeting of the IAEA board, Iran comes in and promises fuller cooperation with the IAEA, but although they make this promise to every board meeting, then they produce nothing," he said. "I would like to see them actually start cooperation -- that would be a very important step -- and then next they need to suspend these activities of concern."

El-Baradei says he is alarmed at the growing sense of confrontation between Tehran and the world powers, which he says could end in war.

The United States has said it wants to end the dispute by diplomatic means, but has not ruled out the use of force. However, there are voices in the U.S. political scene advocating quick action.

The latest is from prominent Senator Joe Lieberman (independent, Connecticut), who has called for a possible military strike on Iran to dissuade it from training and equipping extremists who are killing U.S. troops in Iraq.