ROAR: Russia seeks new ways to solve Middle East, Iran issues

In recent days the Russian leadership discussed the Iranian nuclear program and the Middle East settlement with the leadership of Turkey, Syria, Brazil and Kuwait.

Tehran agreed on Monday to swap nuclear fuel in Turkey after the weekend talks with Brazilian and Turkish leaders. According to a draft proposal, Iran will send some 1,200 kg of its 3.5% enriched uranium to Turkey. In exchange, Iran will get 120 kg of 20% enriched uranium which Tehran says it needs for a medical research reactor.

Brazil and Turkey have played a “key role” in the breakthrough deal, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced his Iranian mission while visiting Russia last week. President Dmitry Medvedev wished him luck, saying that it may be “the last chance” offered to Iran before new sanctions are adopted by the UN Security Council.

Medvedev also had told US President Barack Obama that the Brazilian leader should be given an opportunity to hold talks on the nuclear problem with Tehran. The Russian president called on the Iranian leadership “to listen carefully to the proposals that the Brazilian president will bring to them.”

The Brazilian president “took upon himself a difficult role of the last state leader to talk to the Iranian leadership on the eve of the adoption of the new decision on this issue by the UN Security Council,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said.

Visiting Moscow at the end of the last week, President Lula “surprised many by announcing that he would fly to Tehran to speak with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the Iranian nuclear program,” the paper noted.

In the 1970s, Brazil itself had a secret program of enriching uranium, but then stopped it, the daily said. Now the country is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“I just believe in dialogue and the policy of persuasion,” the paper quoted the Brazilian leader as saying. Earlier Lula had said Iran had the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Brazil is able to influence the situation concerning Tehran’s nuclear program, the paper said. However, Lula’s intentions “provoked a negative response in Washington and London,” it added.

They are afraid that Tehran will benefit from “the optimism of the Brazilian president,” or at least, “win some time,” the daily said. And Moscow was not certain about the success of Lula’s mission, it noted. According to Medvedev’s assessment, the Brazilian leader’s chances for success “were only 30%,” while Lula said he had more than 90%, the paper noted.

In a separate development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Muhammad al-Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah discussed in Moscow on Sunday ways of solving the Iranian nuclear problem.

The two ministers also spoke about the Middle East settlement, Palestinian-Israeli proxy negotiations and security cooperation in the Gulf zone which Russia proposes to make free from weapons of mass destruction.

The Kuwaiti foreign minister also made preparations for the first official visit to Russia of the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. The visit may take place by the end of the year, the foreign minister told Vremya Novostey daily.

Speaking about the cooperation with Russia, Muhammad al-Sabah told the paper that “all Arabic states are interested in nuclear power stations.” However, Kuwait is still concerned about the Iranian nuclear program from an ecological point of view, and taking into account possible military purposes, he stressed.

“If military purposes emerge, it is dangerous for everyone,” the foreign minister said. “There is little more than 120 km from Kuwait to Iranian Bushehr,” he said. “And we should be absolutely certain that the standards of security at the nuclear power station are at the highest level. So far, we do not have such confidence.”

Kuwait also wants guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program does not pursue military purposes, al-Sabah told the paper. “We urge our Iranian friends to cooperate more closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency,” he noted. “These are technical issues that should be solved by the specialists of this organization rather than the UN Security Council.”

The minister stressed that Kuwait “trusts Russian specialists” completing the Bushehr station, but noted that the issue “concerns the whole Iranian nuclear program.” “If some links of the program are suspicious, then it is dangerous for us,” he said.

At the same time, new sanctions against Iran will lead to increasing tension, the minister noted. “And any military scenarios should be excluded,” he noted. “We are afraid that someone may be mistaken in their accounts and assessments of the situation. The slightest mistake may lead to catastrophe.”

“We are trying to persuade Iranians that the confrontation should be ended… but we do not want new sanctions,” the minister said. “We are saying to Iranians: help us with your actions, and then we will help you.”

Visiting Syria and Turkey last week, the Russian president stressed the Middle East should be nuclear-free region. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad also spoke in favor of honoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and turning the Middle East into a region free from weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, Moscow and Damascus are ready to step up cooperation in the nuclear power industry sphere, as well as in the military and technical sector.

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized on Sunday a recent arms deal between Russia and Syria, saying it would not contribute “to an atmosphere of peace” in the region.

Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation had announced that Moscow would sell MiG-29 fighter jets, Pantsyr short-range air defense systems and armored vehicles to Syria.

Lieberman also criticized Russia for the meeting between the Russian president and Hamas leader Khaled Mashal that took place in Damascus last week.

Moscow will continue to seek special ways to settle the problems of the Middle East, analysts believe. The cooperation with Syria is important for Russia, taking into account the Middle East settlement and the prospects of holding a peaceful conference in Moscow dedicated to this problem,” said Evgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture.

“The Russian authorities rely on Damascus’s help in accelerating this process,” she said, adding that the Syrian leadership’s special relations with the radical Palestinian group Hamas are an important factor.

Military cooperation between Russia and Syria remains the second important issue on the bilateral agenda, the analyst told website. “However, this topic… has not been developing lately, first of all because of the normalization of the Russian-Israeli political dialogue.”

This dialogue deteriorated after the August 2008 events in the North Caucasus, when information emerged that Israel had supplied the Georgian army with weapons, she said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review