Analysis: What should Israel root for in Iranian-Russian talks?

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February 20, 2006 23:43
2 minute read.

 
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Talks began in Moscow Monday between Iranian and Russian negotiators over Russia's offer to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil. Moscow's proposal is considered a last-ditch offer that could prevent the UN Security Council from taking up the Iranian nuclear dossier and possibly voting for sanctions. Which raises an interesting question. What is Israel rooting for? Does Israel want the Iranians to say "yes" to the Russian proposal, thereby probably putting an end to the threat of sanctions? Or does Jerusalem secretly hope the Iranians will prove as intractable as in the past and refuse the Russian offer, all but ensuring that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, after hearing yet another report on Iran at its next meeting on March 6, would finally send the issue to the United Nations. The answer is... unclear. There are differences of opinion in Jerusalem over what would be better for Israel at this stage. On the one hand Israel has been lobbying for months to get this issue passed over to the Security Council for sanctions. However, there is concern in Jerusalem that too much time was wasted, and that there is now too much of a gap between Iran's development and the diplomatic efforts to stop it. According to this school of thought, even if the dossier were brought to the UN, there is no certainty that the sanctions would kick in before the Iranians have achieved the know-how to master the nuclear fuel circle on their own. From Israel's perspective, D-Day on this issue is when Iran has the know-how and ability to make nuclear weapons, not when it actually builds them. This is a significant difference between Israel's position and that of much of the rest of the world, and from Israel's point of view, Iran is precariously close to mastering the fuel cycle - so close that diplomatic efforts may be unlikely to stop it. Those who ascribe to this argument consequently hold that it would be better for the Iranians to accept the Russian proposal - as imperfect as it is - because it would deprive them of the nuclear fuel needed to produce nuclear weapons. The drawbacks, however, are obvious. Enrichment is the process that produces fuel that could be used for nuclear weapons. There is concern in Jerusalem about trusting the Russians to uphold their end of the bargain, and keep this fuel - or the know-how - from falling into Iranian hands. Remember, this is the same Russia that only on Monday hosted for talks representatives of Iran and Hamas - two entities bent on Israel's destruction. Is Russia, then, the country you want minding the Iranian nuclear cookie jar? Israel and Russia also do not see eye-to-eye regarding what enriching uranium on Russian soil actually means. Iran would like its scientists to have access to the Russian enrichment facility, something that Russia objects to, but Moscow is apparently amenable to research and development capability remaining inside Iran, something Israel fears. As a result of these drawbacks, and others, there are those in Jerusalem privately hoping the Iranians turn down the Russians, sending the issue to the Security Council and forcing - for once and for all - a showdown with the Iranians. According to this line of reasoning, were the Iranians to accept the Russian proposal and were the IAEA, as a result, to decide next month to delay sending the issue to the UN, then the international momentum against the Iranians which has been painstakingly developed over the last few years would be lost.

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