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Iran: Lawmakers Reject Nearby Missile-Shield Presence

(RFE/RL) 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.

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Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?

Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?

AN RFE/RL VIDEO PRESENTATION: The Czech Republic responds to the U.S. missile-defense proposal.

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