26 July 2004, Volume 7, Number 25
9/11 COMMISSION REPORT EXAMINES IRAN/AL-QAEDA LINKS... "We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government," the "9/11 Commission Report" notes in a section on assistance from Iran and Lebanon's Hizballah to Al-Qaeda. Formally entitled the "Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" and released on 22 July (text available at http://www.9-11commission.gov), the report traces Iran's relationship with Al-Qaeda to late 1991 or 1992 meetings in Sudan (p. 61). At that time the two sides informally agreed to cooperate in anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli activities. Soon thereafter, "senior Al Qaeda operatives and trainers" went to Iran for explosives training. In 1993, a similar delegation went to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley for training in explosives, intelligence, and security.
"The relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations," according to the report (p. 61). Some observers have cited religious differences when downplaying the possibility of Iran/Al-Qaeda links. For example, Nathan Brown, a professor of international political science at George Washington University in Washington, told RFE/RL on 20 July (http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/7/35453AFE-BF22-4EE1-A3C8-CEF71DA7F33B.html), "Any strong connection [between Iran and Al-Qaeda] would be implausible." Brown continued: "The environment which [Al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden comes out of is one which regards Shi'a Muslims as not simply mistaken but as apostate. But it also strikes me as not impossible, but quite strange and maybe implausible, that the Iranians would even approach them, because there's bad blood that goes back a couple of hundred years -- there's very deep bad blood."
Contacts between Iran and senior Al-Qaeda figures continued even after bin Laden left Sudan for Afghanistan in 1998, according to the report (p. 240). Iran reportedly made a concerted effort to strengthen the relationship after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in October 2000, but was rebuffed because bin Laden feared alienating Saudi supporters.
Nevertheless, Iranian officials eased the transit of individuals going to and from Afghanistan by not stamping their passports. Between eight and 10 of the 14 individuals who hijacked aircraft used in the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001, according to evidence obtained by the 9/11 Commission. Hizballah and Saudi Hizballah figures were involved with plans to assist Al-Qaeda personnel travelling through Iran.
Two captured Al-Qaeda leaders, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Ramzi Binalshibh, confirmed that some of the hijackers transited Iran, but said that they did so only because their passports would not be stamped (p. 241). The two also denied that there was a relationship between the hijackers and Hizballah.
"We have found no evidence that Iran or [Hizballah] was aware of the planing for what later became the 9/11 attack," the report concludes, adding that, after 9/11, Iran wanted to conceal any connections with Sunni terrorists. (Bill Samii)
...AND TEHRAN DISMISSES THE REPORT. As details about the 9/11 Commission's report emerged in the days before its actual release, it became clear that Iran would be mentioned. Tehran quickly slipped into a defensive mode, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi saying to his domestic audience on 18 July that such claims are meant to cover up alleged U.S. failings in Iraq, state television reported. The rest of the world was sent a slightly different message. Assefi said on 18 July that it is impossible to fully control Iran's long borders and it is not inconceivable that a handful of people evaded detection, Reuters reported.
Two and 1/2 years ago Assefi and his colleagues had a very different message. Assefi said on 10 January 2002: "Iran's borders are closed and are under the strict control of our country's forces." President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to state television on 13 January: "The borders of Iran and Afghanistan are totally closed and total border controls mean that we will never permit terrorists or terrorist groups to cross the borders" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 January 2002)
Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said on 20 July that allegations about Iranian involvement with Al-Qaeda are just a pretext for the United States to attack Iran, Abu Dhabi television reported. Abtahi said on 23 July that allegations in the report are "a sheer lie and mere propaganda," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Abtahi went on cite Iran's ideological differences with Al-Qaeda as a reason why they could never cooperate, "even if it means fighting against a mutual enemy like America."
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani discussed allegations of Iran-Al-Qaeda involvement in his 23 July Friday prayer sermon, according to state radio. He noted that Iran is not the only country the hijackers passed through on their way to the United States. Rafsanjani went on to repeat the claim that the United States created the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and promoted them as a counter to Iran's Islamic Revolution. (Bill Samii)
GUARDIANS COUNCIL LEADERSHIP UNCHANGED. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 16 July appointed Ayatollahs Ahmad Jannati and Gholamreza Rezvani and Hojatoleslam Mohammad-Reza Mudarissi-Yazdi as clerical representatives on the Guardians Council, ILNA reported. Jannati is the secretary of the 12-member council, which supervises presidential, parliamentary, and Assembly of Experts elections and vets legislation for its compatibility with Islam and the constitution. (Bill Samii)
REFORMERS URGE KHATAMI TO DENOUNCE PRESS CLOSURES. The reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO) party has asked President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to denounce as unconstitutional the continuing closures of Iranian newspapers by the conservative-led judiciary, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 21 July.
The MIRO announcement comes on the heels of the judiciary's recent closure of two reformist papers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2004). The judiciary has previously banned scores of other newspapers and periodicals.
MIRO central committee member Muhsin Armin told ISNA that his group wishes "the president to serve a constitutional notice and do his duty in defending the political and press freedoms stated in the constitution." The president may warn state bodies if they violate the constitution, but it is unclear if his admonitions are legally binding.
Separately, a spokesman for Iran's Association in Defense of Press Freedoms, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, told Radio Farda on 21 July that the judiciary wishes to encourage Iranian journalists to emigrate or change jobs by making their work difficult. His group issued a statement on 19 June denouncing a "policy of genocide" by the judiciary against independent journalism in Iran. Certain journalists are to protest against the latest closures on 26 July at the press guild offices in Tehran, Radio Farda reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
PARTICIPATION PARTY HOLDS THREE-DAY CONGRESS. The Islamic Iran Participation Party began a three-day congress on 21 July, agencies reported.
The party's secretary-general, Mohammad Reza Khatami, admitted in a speech that democratic reforms initiated since President Mohammad Khatami's 1997 election have suffered setbacks. Khatami predicted that liberties will be curtailed in the next few years, but vowed to continue the party's reformist work within Iran's political framework, Radio Farda reported. He dismissed another revolution in Iran as "neither possible nor useful," while "anarchy and riots are a deadly poison to...society," Radio Farda reported. Khatami asserted that his party will neither become an opposition group that seeks merely to turn "the governing system upside down" nor emulate "conservative reformists" who "believe they must pursue the game behind the scenes...even at the cost of losing public confidence," Mehr news agency reported.
Mohammad Reza Khatami was reappointed as the party's secretary-general after winning 164 of 175 votes in a party vote, ISNA reported on 22 July. The party's central committee had nominated Khatami, who is the brother of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, and Ali Shakuri-Rad as candidates. (Vahid Sepehri, Kathleen Ridolfo)
COURT SENTENCES AGHAJARI FOR INSULTING CLERGY. Political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari -- sentenced to death in 2002 for apostasy but reprieved in May -- has been given a three-year jail sentence and further limits on his freedoms for insulting Iran's ruling clergy, his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on 20 July. Aghajari rejected in the recent retrial the charge that he insulted the clergy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2004). Nikbakht also told IRNA that his client might be released on bail on 22 July. Reuters quoted Nikbakht as saying the Tehran court dealing with the case might release Aghajari in exchange for posting the equivalent of about $117,000.
The court gave Aghajari a three-year prison sentence, a two-year suspended prison sentence, and "deprivation of social rights for five years" following his incarceration, IRNA and Radio Farda reported on 20 July. Aghajari has spent roughly two years in jail, and Nikbakht said that with Aghajari's "provisional release, I shall be working to prevent his return for the remaining year of his sentence, and hope the sentence will be overturned by higher authorities," IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
CANADA RECALLS AMBASSADOR TO IRAN... Canada pledged on 14 July to recall its ambassador to Tehran after the Iranian government refused to allow Canadian observers at the trial of a man accused of killing Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi, according to a statement by Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham that was quoted by AFP on 16 July. Graham called the Iranian decision "completely unacceptable." "This is not [a] case [of] a secret trial. We do not accept the position of Iran," he said. AFP cited Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi as saying earlier, "Iran does not feel at all obliged to accept the presence of Canadian observers in this trial."
Meanwhile, Iran's ambassador to Canada, Seyyed Mohammad Ali Musavi, commented on Graham's assertions that economic and political sanctions against Iran might be pursued, saying: "I think this is not a helpful approach to move constructively in a mutual interest on the trial of Ms. Kazemi and our bilateral relations," albawaba.com reported on 15 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...FOREIGN OBSERVERS ARE BANNED FROM JOURNALIST TRIAL PROCEEDINGS... Foreign observers including the Canadian ambassador, European diplomats, and the representatives of foreign media were barred from the 18 July session of the Kazemi trial, AP and AFP reported the same day. Canada announced the same day that it had reinstated its decision to recall Ambassador Philip Mackinnon to protest Iran's handling of the case.
Canadian Foreign Minister William Graham said in Toronto that he is disappointed "but not surprised by this flagrant violation of due process" in a case that has soured Iran-Canada relations, The Canadian Press reported.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi claimed on 18 July that the trial "concerns an Iranian national" and that Kazemi "entered the country with an Iranian passport...and it makes no difference if Canada insists the lady was Canadian," ISNA reported the same day. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. Assefi stated that there "was no reason for a Canadian observer to come to a trial held in Iran."
Canada initially prepared to recall its envoy last week, amid signs that foreign observers would not be allowed into the courtroom at all. After Ambassador Mackinnon was allowed, along with other observers, to attend the trial's opening session on 17 July, the recall decision was suspended -- only to be reinstated the next day. (Vahid Sepehri)
...COURT HALTS TRIAL... A Tehran court on 18 July abruptly concluded court proceedings in the trial of an Iranian security agent accused of killing Canadian photojournalist Kazemi in mid-2003, eliciting outrage from attorneys for the victim's family and condemnation from the international community, local and international media reported. Mohammad Reza Aqdam-Ahmadi faces charges that he "semi-intentionally" killed Kazemi during interrogation after her detention in Tehran for taking photos outside an Iranian prison (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003).
Attorneys for Kazemi's family have suggested that the court is ignoring evidence implicating more senior officials in the killing and have reportedly refused to sign the indictment. The attorneys called the trial so far "unacceptable" and the indictment "incomplete," AP reported. The family's counsel, led by Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, wanted the court to hear more witnesses, including hospital staffers who attended to Kazemi and parliamentarians, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 July. The judge reportedly refused, saying those individuals were not directly involved. Ebadi told media outside the courtroom that whatever verdict the court issues will be unjust, AP reported. She later said the family might seek justice with the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Radio Farda reported on 18 July. (Vahid Sepehri)
...EU CONCERNED ABOUT SLAIN JOURNALIST'S TRIAL... The European Union presidency expressed concern, in a 19 July statement, at the conclusion "in a very short time" of the trial of an Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry agent charged with killing Kazemi in Tehran in 2003, AP and Radio Farda reported the same day. The statement was issued by the government of the Netherlands, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency. It rebuked Tehran for preventing foreign observers, including Dutch Ambassador in Tehran Hein de Vries, and European diplomats from attending the 18 July court session, AP added.
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh also criticized the trial on 19 July and said the government considers the defendant "innocent, and we consider the Intelligence Ministry and its agents innocent of any charges in this regard," IRNA reported the same day. Reformers in Iran's government believe the conservative-led judiciary is using Intelligence Ministry agent Reza Aqdam Ahmadi as a scapegoat to protect more senior officials from prosecution. But Ramezanzadeh said the case concerned "an Iranian citizen," and "there is no need for supervision by foreign countries," IRNA added. (Vahid Sepehri)
...COURT CLEARS ACCUSED KILLER. An Iranian court on 24 July cleared Ministry of Intelligence and Reza Aqdam Ahmadi of charges that he killed Kazemi, Reuters reported. "I was informed by reliable official sources at the judiciary that he has been acquitted," Aqdam-Ahmadi's attorney, Qassem Shabani, told Reuters. (Bill Samii)
BRITISH BANK TO OPEN BRANCH ON KISH ISLAND. The Iranian government has granted a license to Standard Chartered PLC to set up a bank branch on the Persian Gulf island of Kish, ft.com reported on 22 July. Kish is a designated free-trade zone. The website reported that the establishment of the branch does not grant the bank permission to serve the mainland Iranian market. Standard Chartered thus becomes the first foreign bank to be issued a branch license by Iranian authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The branch is expected to be operational by year-end, according to bank's regional manager for the Middle East and South Asia, David Edwards. He called the license a "landmark approval," adding: "In the short term, the Kish branch will enable us to book Iranian corporate business onshore for the first time. Until now our Tehran representative office has had to pass business to Dubai or London to be serviced, so by being on Kish we will be able to get closer to our Iranian clients." Standard Chartered has operated a representative office in Tehran since 1993 that was restricted to structuring solutions for corporate clients and facilitating cross-border trade. It could not engage, however, in full-service commercial banking. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KHARRAZI LEAVES TUNIS AFTER ECONOMIC SUMMIT. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi left Tunis on 15 July following a three-day economic summit, IRNA reported on 16 July. The summit, the seventh between Iran and Tunisia, resulted in the signing of seven memorandums of understanding on mutual cooperation in areas including radio and television, private-sector economic development and the expansion of technical and marine relations, and an agreement on the allocation of 25 million euros ($30.9 million) to Tunisia. Kharrazi reportedly traveled to Khartoum after the summit. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RAFSANJANI SAYS U.S. HAS BEEN HUMILIATED IN IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Rafsanjan in southeastern Iran on 20 July that the United States, "which considers itself the unrivaled superpower in the world, is now humiliated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its soldiers, armed to the teeth, dare not leave their barracks for fear of [Iraqis]," IRNA reported the same day. Rafsanjani, who heads Iran's top political-arbitration body, told a gathering of relatives of Iranian servicemen killed in the 1980-88 war with Iraq that the United States "is defeated in Iraq and 140,000 American soldiers have become the prisoners of a bunch of people resisting them." U.S. forces "are now in the worst possible conditions," he said, asking, "What greater punishment for them than to be stuck in a murderous quagmire?" Iran's Islamic revolution, he added, is "more lively than before" and has an army of "eight to 10 million" Iranians ready to defend it, IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN ACCUSES ISRAEL OF SEEKING IRAQ'S DISMEMBERMENT. In Tehran on 20 July, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi warned of unspecified "separatist efforts" by Israel in Iraq and stressed that Iraq must maintain its territorial integrity, IRNA reported. "Iraq's present situation is the product of America's unilateral action, and normal conditions must be restored...through elections and by giving [Iraqis] control over their affairs," he said in a meeting with Italian Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Alfredo Mantica. Kharrazi said Iran wants to "help create stability and calm" in Iraq, IRNA reported.
Mantica also met with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani on 20 July, IRNA reported. Rohani said Iran welcomes "the formation of an interim government in Iraq and we are determined to cooperate with [it]."
Iraq's defense and interior ministers have accused Iran of involvement in the unrest in Iraq. Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati told Radio Farda on 20 July that the Iraqi and Iranian Foreign ministries will "soon" discuss frontiers and terrorism within the auspices of a joint committee, adding, "Terrorism is not just in Iraq."
Iran's ambassador in Turkey, Firuz Dolatabadi, said on 21 July that Israel's "definite aim is to form a Kurdish state in northern Iraq," IRNA reported citing an interview with Turkey's NTV. Dolatabadi said Israel has pursued this plan for 20 years, with help from U.S. and British intelligence services, and "their agents are buying property and training Kurds in northern Iraq." The "Kurds receiving Israeli training" are mostly from among "Kurds scattered around northern Iraq," not the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or the Kurdish Democratic Party, Iraq's principal Kurdish groups, "because those groups know that these measures serve [Israeli and U.S.] interests...and do not benefit [Kurds]," IRNA quoted him as saying. Those groups have refused to cooperate with the Israelis, Dolatabadi stated. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN CRACKS DOWN ON KONGRA-GEL. The Iranian military battled Kurdish forces from the Free Life Party in the Sardasht region of eastern Iran this week, "Hawlati" reported on 22 July. Haji Ahmad, a leader of the Free Life Party and member of Kongra-Gel (formerly known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK), told the weekly that Iranian forces initiated the fighting, adding that Kurdish forces "defeated forces of the regime and then captured a military barracks of the Revolutionary Guards in the village of Mazra." Ahmad further claimed that Kurdish fighters ambushed an Iranian military vehicle, killing an Iranian commander and soldier. There is no independent confirmation of Ahmad's claims.
Meanwhile, Tehran has struck an agreement with Turkey to wage a joint struggle against the Kurds, Roj TV reported on 15 July. That agreement is to be made formal when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Tehran on 27 July. NTV reported on 20 July that Iranian Ambassador to Ankara Firuz Dolatabadi announced that Iran will declare Kongra-Gel a terrorist organization during Erdogan's visit. Dolatabadi also told NTV that Iran will pursue its security cooperation with Turkey and block entry into Iran by members of Kongra-Gel. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MKO ACCUSES IRAN OF INTERFERING IN IRAQI AFFAIRS. The Iranian opposition group Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) has accused the Iranian regime of interfering in Iraqi affairs, according to a statement published by the group in Baghdad's "Al-Manar" on 20 July. The statement claims that regime agents paid $70,000 to Iraqis in Al-Muqdadiyah, located 80 kilometers northeast of Baghdad and northeast of Baqouba, "to bribe the supporters of [the MKO] in order to change their stance and to cut off their relations" with the MKO. The statement claims that the MKO has the support of more than 300,000 Iraqis from various sects, ethnic groups, and social classes. "The honest Iraqi people...insist on the importance of maintaining the political presence of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization in Iraq because it forms the most important barrier against the penetration of extremism into Iraq," the statement contended. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SCIRI HEAD DENIES IRAN SENDING FIGHTERS TO IRAQ. The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim has denied that Iran is sending terrorists to Iraq, SCIRI's Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 22 July. Responding to recent claims by Iraqi politicians that Iran has sent terrorists to Iraq, al-Hakim said: "I do not believe that these reports are true. The Islamic Republic [of Iran] does not send terrorists to Iraq or to the holy shrines" in Iraq. Al-Hakim said that the allegations were made by those who wish to prevent Iran and Iraq from having strong relations, and added that those who entered Iraq from Iran without visas are not necessarily terrorists. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-SADR AIDE REFERS TO IRANIAN 'INTERFERENCE.' In his 16 July Friday prayer sermon in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City, an aide to clerical leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on Tehran to prevent Iranians' interference in Iraqi affairs, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported. Aws al-Khafaji said: "Do not interfere. May God grant you all that is good, but, do not interfere in our internal affairs... We tell this neighbor... Do not interfere in the affairs of our wounded Iraq. Do not add to our wounds. Try to prevent your people from wreaking havoc in Iraq, particularly in Karbala and Al-Najaf. You may have read reports about hashish smuggling networks, which are wreaking havoc in Iraq. This is in addition to the role of the Iranian Intelligence." (Bill Samii)
ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE CLAIMS IRAN COULD POSSESS A NUCLEAR BOMB BY 2008. An annual Israeli intelligence assessment delivered to the government officials on 21 July estimates that Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2008, "Ma'ariv" reported on 22 July. The assessment concludes that Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons represents the greatest threat to Israel, the daily reported. The assessment contends that international nuclear inspections in Iran have stalled the progress of Tehran's uranium-enrichment program by two or three years, since enrichment has a long maturation process and, once halted, must be started again from scratch. Israeli Defense Force intelligence previously claimed that Iran could have a nuclear capability by 2005, "Ma'ariv" noted. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RUSSIA, IRAN DISCUSS NUCLEAR WASTE. Iran's ambassador in Moscow, Gholamreza Shafei, met with Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev on 19 July to discuss the repatriation of spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr nuclear plant in southern Iran, which Russia is helping build, "The Jerusalem Post" reported citing Interfax. According to Interfax, Shafei said Iran will send back used fuel once the two states sign an agreement. The United States is concerned that Tehran will use the fuel to produce nuclear warheads, but Russia has said that it will not deliver fuel before making a deal on spent-fuel recovery. Rumyantsev is to visit Tehran in October or November, when he may sign a deal on waste repatriation, according to RIA-Novosti on 18 July.
Separately, ISNA quoted an unnamed official of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization as saying on 18 July that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Tehran the previous day, to inspect sites at Isfahan and Natanz in central Iran. They will stay in Iran for one week, the official said, following a two-week check by IAEA inspectors that ended on 16 July. (Vahid Sepehri)
END NOTERUSSIA AND IRAN: WHO IS STRONG-ARMING WHOM?
By Mark Katz
Continued Russian support for Iran's nuclear-energy program despite U.S. objections that this could help Tehran acquire nuclear weapons appears to be a source of great pride to many Russian officials and commentators. Indeed, Moscow's defiance of Washington feeds into the notion that Russia is still a great power. Moscow's continued contribution to the Iranian nuclear program may, however, ultimately serve to weaken Russia, not strengthen it.
The U.S. government has long been worried that Tehran is using its nuclear-energy program to develop nuclear weapons, and has therefore repeatedly urged Moscow to halt work on the reactor it is building for the Iranians at Bushehr. The standard Russian response has been that Iran is in compliance with all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations, and thus has the right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a peaceful nuclear-energy program. But with the revelation that Iran possesses hitherto secret nuclear facilities that it had not declared to the IAEA and that some of the equipment IAEA inspectors have found in Iran bore traces of weapons grade uranium, it has become increasingly clear that Iran is not in total compliance with IAEA regulations
Yet despite these revelations, Russian work on the Iranian nuclear-energy program has continued. While the United States wanted the IAEA to declare Iran to be in violation of the NPT and refer the matter to the UN Security Council, Russia sided with European and other states that were unwilling to do so and sought to "engage" Tehran instead. In the past few months, though, it has become obvious to the Europeans that their engagement efforts have not succeeded, and that Iran appears determined to acquire the equipment and technology that could enable it to fabricate nuclear weapons, although Iran insists it seeks only to develop a peaceful nuclear-energy program.
Moscow meanwhile has continued to declare that it will complete the nuclear reactor it is currently helping to build at Bushehr, and to express its hopes of building several more. True, the Russian government insists that Iran must agree to return to Russia all spent fuel (which could be used for nuclear weapons), but the value of such an agreement (if it is signed) as a nonproliferation measure is dubious. Aleksandr Rumyantsev, head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency, said in May that any such spent fuel would not arrive in Russia for at least seven or eight years.
It would seem that Russia would have as much of an incentive -- or an even greater one -- than the United States and the EU in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia is much closer geographically to Iran, and thus is much more within range of the type of missile currently available to Tehran. Nor would Russia be less vulnerable to an Iranian attack if Tehran were to succeed in developing longer-range missiles.
Yet, while Moscow genuinely does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, it has a strong incentive to continue assisting the Iranian nuclear-energy program. In December 2002, Radzhab Safarov, who is director-general of the Russian Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies, noted that the Russian nuclear-power industry faced an uncertain future after it lost customers both in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union itself following the 1989-91 collapse of communism. "Therefore, Iran has in effect saved Russia's nuclear-power sector. And we should be grateful to Iran for having provided tens of thousands of Russian companies with 70 percent of their work," Safarov told Ekho Moskvy. In other words, without the work in Iran, the Russian nuclear industry, which Moscow places a high priority on preserving, may not have enough customers to survive.
Iran regards the United States as its greatest opponent. One strong motive the Iranian hard-liners would appear to have for acquiring nuclear weapons is to deter the United States from military intervention against Iran. This motive was undoubtedly heightened after witnessing how rapidly U.S.-led forces overthrew first the Taliban and then Saddam Hussein in countries neighboring Iran. Iran, then, would appear to have a strong incentive to remain on good terms with Russia -- at least, that is, until Tehran actually does acquire nuclear weapons. What is surprising, though, is that Moscow does not attempt to exploit Iran's dependence on Russia in the nuclear arena to obtain concessions in other areas, especially the delimitation of the Caspian Sea. However, Iran is refusing to accept an agreement signed in May 2003 by Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan that would give those three states nearly 70 percent of the seabed; Iran is holding out for dividing the seabed and the waters into five equal parts among the littoral states.
Iran's intransigence has negatively affected Moscow because it has prevented Russian oil firms from participating in the exploitation of oil deposits in the area of the southern Caspian to which both Azerbaijan and Iran lay claim, and has motivated Azerbaijan to seek military assistance from the United States, which Moscow sees as undercutting its own influence in the region.
Moscow could attempt to link its continued participation in the Iranian nuclear-energy program to Iranian concessions on the delimitation of the Caspian. Alternatively, or simultaneously, Russia could cooperate with the United States in trying to persuade the IAEA to refer Iran's violations of the NPT to the UN Security Council. Iran would then become much more dependent on Russia to prevent sanctions from being imposed on it -- and presumably consequently more willing to accommodate Moscow both in the Caspian and on the issue of nuclear safeguards (assuming that Tehran really is only developing a peaceful atomic energy program, as it claims, and is not seeking nuclear weapons).
Russia, though, has not made any such linkage, and Iran's continued stubbornness on the Caspian issue suggests that Tehran does not fear it will do so. Instead, it is Moscow that seems afraid that annoying Tehran could result in the Russian nuclear-power industry not receiving contracts to build any more nuclear reactors for Iran after the first one at Bushehr is completed.
But if Tehran is unwilling to accommodate Russian interests in the Caspian before it acquires nuclear weapons, it is hardly likely to do so after acquiring them, when it will be less dependent on Russia. A more belligerent Iran armed with nuclear weapons might also confront Moscow with the choice between continuing to provide Tehran with nuclear know-how in order to appease it, or reluctantly turning to the United States for support. Thus, instead of enhancing Russia's status as a great power, the sale of nuclear technology to Iran is far more likely to undermine it.
Mark Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.