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(photo credit: AP)
Russia has no interest in Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, as Moscow does not want a radical, Islamic nuclear power on its doorstep, a high-ranking Russian diplomat in the Middle East told The Jerusalem Post this week.
On Wednesday, Iran rejected a Russian proposal to move Iran's uranium enrichment production to Russia to resolve the standoff over Teheran's nuclear program.
Moscow had made the offer to Teheran "so it would be able to supervise the process of uranium enrichment and the use of that material," said the diplomat. "Living in such close proximity to Iran, Russia is not at all interested in Iran having atomic bombs at its disposal."
Speaking to correspondents in Teheran this Tuesday, Alauddin Borudjery, head of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) national security and foreign relations committee, said, "Iran is definitely interested in the first part of the Russian offer, that of joint enrichment of uranium."
He added that it was the second part of the offer, the enrichment of uranium on Russian territory, that was not acceptable to Teheran, because of the "substantial size of investments in the Natanz site."
Natanz, some 250 km. south of Teheran, was a closely guarded secret until 2002, when its existence was revealed by an Iranian exile group. The site holds uranium enrichment facilities that could be aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
According to Iranian sources, the offer was made by Russia's embassy in Teheran, although Iranian officials in Teheran denied such a proposal was ever relayed. Earlier this month, when the possibility of such a proposal was first raised by the members of the E3 (France, Germany and Great Britain), Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Organization of Iran, dismissed the offer as "unacceptable and unthinkable."
Moscow, a longstanding ally of Iran, was caught by surprise at Iran's harsh position and unwillingness even to discuss the proposal, the Russian diplomat said.
Some Russian analysts believe that this incident will seriously damage Russia's reputation as an effective mediator between the ayatollah's regime and the E3.
According to the diplomat, even within the Russian administration there is no united position towards Iran.
The ministry of defense and the ministry of nuclear energy consider Iran to be one of Russia's most important strategic partners, whereas in Vladimir Putin's office the attitude toward Iran is much more ambivalent and complex.
Over the past few months, several voices from the Duma (Russian parliament) alerting to Iran's possible threat to Russian security were heard, but Moscow continues to back Iran, vetoing the E3 decision to pass the Iranian nuclear file to UN Security Council.
The position Moscow must take is a precarious one. Any serious concessions in this area would be considered as giving in to US pressure and would bring about a serious cooling in relations with the Iranian government. On the other hand, too much enthusiasm in defending Iran's nuclear program could threaten US-Russian relations.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin welcomed the Russian diplomat's comments, but said they should be backed up by actions.
He said that Russia should work with the European Union and the United States to bring Iran to the UN Security Council so that there would be a meaningful threat of applying "real sanctions" against Iran.
Gissin said that, until now, Russia has prevented effective use of the Security Council and sanctions. "Russia makes declarations, but these declarations must be translated into real action," he added.
Since Teheran's rejection of the offer, Moscow has kept mum on its future steps on this issue. During an interview to the daily Izvestia newspaper in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that "Russia continues to monitor the situation in Iran very carefully. Currently we do not have any evidence that will show that Iran is in violation of the regime of non-proliferation."
"Unfortunately, some countries tend to use the Iranian card in a political context which is completely irrelevant to the main issue," said Lavrov, adding, "This is a very dangerous tendency, since the problem of WMD non-proliferation is too important to turn it into a hostage of some internal political campaign."
Iran has already produced 40 tons of UF6, a compound used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, Mossad chief Meir Dagan said Tuesday. That amount of UF6 could produce 40 kg. of fissile material.
Iran is also continuing to "build and enhance" centrifuges, which are part of its nuclear program, Dagan added.
The Mossad believes that Teheran is but six months away from achieving technological independence in its quest to develop a nuclear bomb.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.