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Analysis: Russia Treads Fine Line On Iranian Nuclear Issue

By Sojida Djakhfarova

At a press conference during his recent visit to Tehran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia does not support the idea of referring Tehran's nuclear case to the United Nations and will continue nuclear cooperation with Iran. According to reports, Lavrov, who was discussing Russian President Vladimir Putin's possible visit to Iran, also said that Russia will sign an agreement with Iranian officials about the return to Russia of spent nuclear fuel in the near future. Lavrov expressed satisfaction about Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and said that he hopes cooperation of this kind will continue.

In its latest resolution, the IAEA has asked Iran to stop uranium enrichment immediately and provide a clear picture of all its nuclear programs by 25 November. In response, Iran has said all its nuclear activities are of a nonmilitary nature and it is only concentrating on the production of nuclear energy.

Russia is always a sizable factor in the international community's dealings with Iran. In the past, Moscow has asked Iran -- often with considerable pressure -- to reduce or limit its nuclear activities. But many observers believe that such pressure from Moscow is mostly cosmetic, intended only to appease the IAEA and reduce international pressure on Iran.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Piruz Mujtahedzadeh, a professor of geopolitics at Tehran's Tarbiat Mudariss University and chairman of the London-based Urosevic Research Foundation, said he believes it is in Iran's interest to stop uranium enrichment so that " reduced and the case of Iranian nuclear programs is not brought before the UN."

Other analysts, however, believe that there are two major factors dictating Moscow's policy toward Iran on the nuclear issue: First, Russia's $800 million contract to build the Bushehr nuclear power plant; and second, and more importantly, because of a number of geopolitical considerations, Russia would under no circumstances want to lose its special relationship with Iran.

Victoria Panfilova, an analyst and writer for "Nezvavisimaya gazeta," in an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, said on 11 October that in Iran there are many factors that could enflame internal resistance to the Islamic regime, such as common discord, religious or ethnic unrest, or border conflicts -- all of which could possibly lead to the fall of the Islamic regime. In Panfilova's opinion, in the case of regime change, a Westernized Iran could upset the geopolitical balance and drag other countries in the region toward the West.

But would Russia not be equally afraid of nuclear proliferation in a country with an unpredictable regime? "Nuclear proliferation is not in Russia's interest and Russia does not want these weapons to fall in the hands of extremist groups," Panfilova said. "But this doesn't mean that Russia would blindly follow U.S. interests in the region, interests that are not often in line with Russian interests." Panfilova believes that ultimately Russia should culture a more neutral position toward Iran.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Russian analyst and regional expert, Aleksander Omnov, said that he believes that cooperation between Moscow and Tehran is not intended to be an alliance against Washington. Moscow and Tehran have common interests but, he says, Moscow wants to have good relations with both Iran and the United States.

Today, Moscow's position concerning Iran's nuclear programs is that Tehran should follow the regulations set out by the IAEA and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Some experts believe that Russia might be persuaded to stop exporting nuclear materials to Bushehr if enough international pressure is exerted on Moscow. However, other observers have said that international pressure has had little effect on Russian-Iranian relations in the past and the future is unlikely to be any different.

Sojida Djakhfarova is a senior producer for RFE/RL's Tajik Service. She worked in Tajikistan as a journalist for seven years.