Putin to visit Iran amid nuclear tension

Russian leader's 1st trip to Teheran is viewed as a test of the Kremlin's intentions.

October 14, 2007 19:02
4 minute read.
Putin to visit Iran amid nuclear tension

Putin 298 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been told of a plot to assassinate him during a visit to Iran this week, a Kremlin spokeswoman said Sunday. The spokeswoman, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, refused further comment. Interfax news agency, citing a source in Russia's special services, said suicide terrorists had been trained to carry out the assassination. In Teheran, a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, denied any such plot had been uncovered and he characterized the news as disinformation spread by Iran's adversaries. "These sort of reports are completely baseless and in direction with psychological operations of enemies of relations between Iran and Russia," Hosseini said in a statement. Hosseini said, "Reporting of this type of sheer lie ... has no news value and cannot harm the planned schedule." The official Islamic Republic News Agency called the reports part of a psychological war by the Western intelligence services aimed at forcing the cancellation of Putin's visit to Teheran. When the russian president visits Teheran this week, he will be closely watched for any sign that he has moved closer to launching the nuclear reactor Russia is building for Iran. Russia has resisted the US push for stronger sanctions against Teheran and strongly warned Washington against using force. But its position is carefully hedged: It has delayed completing the plant, Iran's first, and is urging the country to comply with international controls on its nuclear activities. Any show of support for Iran, such as a pledge by Putin to quickly complete the power plant, could embolden Iran and further cloud Russia's relations with the West. Putin bluntly spelled out his disagreements with Washington, saying on Wednesday that he saw no "objective data" to prove Western claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. And at talks Friday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he ridiculed US plans for a missile defense system in eastern Europe, supposedly to stop an Iranian attack. His bluntness appeared to shock Rice and Gates. Putin's visit, during which he will meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and attend Tuesday's summit of Caspian Sea nations, is a first. No Kremlin leader has traveled to Iran since Josef Stalin in 1943, for a wartime summit with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Putin's trip is important for Iran even if it yields no agreements. "It's a break in international isolation, a chance to show that Iran is an important country," said Alexander Pikayev, a leading expert on Iran with Russia's Institute for World Economy and International relations. But it will highlight a reality sometimes overlooked by a world focused on the West's confrontation with Iran: that the Kremlin also has its problems with the Islamic republic. Although Russia has shielded Iran from harsher sanctions in the UN Security Council, its relations with Teheran have been hurt by disputes over the US$1 billion deal to build the nuclear plant. Russia warned early this year that the plant in the port of Bushehr wouldn't be launched this fall as planned - the latest in a series of delays - because Iran was slow in making payments. It has also delayed the shipment of uranium fuel for the plant. Anxious to ease Western doubts - and possibly its own - about Iran's intentions, the Kremlin made it sign a deal several years ago to return the fuel to Russia after use so that it cannot be used in weapons. Iranian officials deny being late with payments and accuse the Kremlin of yielding to Western pressure. Iran has started its own enrichment program, saying it wants to produce fuel by itself - an effort that has heightened international suspicions. Iran insists that its program is meant purely to generate electricity. Low-enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear power plants. The highly enriched uranium can be used to build nuclear weapons. The upshot is a slew of mutual suspicions, said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. "Teheran views Russia as an unreliable partner that uses Iran in its game with the West," he told The Associated Press. "Iran has been very difficult to deal with and the Kremlin has felt strong irritation about it." Putin's Teheran trip repeatedly has been postponed, as has the launch of the nuclear plant. Moscow has said fuel delivery will start six months before the plant goes on line, but keeps delaying the launch date, citing the payment dispute. Some analysts think Putin may use the summit to pledge to complete the plant next year. "It requires political will to turn the launch key at Bushehr, and there is no reason to think that Russia lacks it," said Vladimir Orlov, the head of PIR Center, a think tank specializing in nuclear issues. Other analysts predict Russia's balancing act will continue, to avoid angering either Iran or the West. Moscow repeatedly has said it doesn't want a nuclear-armed Iran, and has urged Teheran to freeze uranium enrichment and answer international inspectors' queries about its nuclear program. Vyacheslav Kantor, a Russian businessman who is president of the European Jewish Congress, said the Kremlin is bent on preventing Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons. "We feel the intentions are very strong and positive," he said, voicing hope that Putin could persuade Teheran to meet international demands. Meanwhile, senior diplomats of the UN Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members, joined by Germany, are giving Iran until November to show a positive response to questions about its nuclear program or face tougher sanctions. Permanent members Russia and China agreed to two previous sanctions resolutions but have cold-shouldered the effort by the US, Britain and France to impose harsh measures. So if Putin's trip to Iran doesn't yield answers to where the Kremlin is headed on the Iranian nuclear issue, next month's dealings at the UN may fill in some of the blanks.

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