Putin ahmadinejad 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Though Russia has not tabled a formal proposal yet, it is seeking to host some kind of Mideast peace conference, following Annapolis and the donors meeting for the Palestinians in Paris. Israel is known to be unhappy about the idea, while formally stating that it knows nothing of it.
The US, Europe, and Israel should nix this now, before it gets off the ground. Russia is on the wrong side of the peace equation and should be sent a strong signal that there is a price to pay for providing critical diplomatic cover and military assistance to rogue states.
Western relations with Russia are, obviously, delicate. Western leaders are reluctant to say no to Russia, since Russian cooperation is needed in the UN Security Council, and Russia could play an even more damaging role if it wanted.
At some point, however, the egregiousness of Russian behavior cannot be papered over. Russia not only built Iran's Bushehr reactor over years of Western objections and provided air defences for Iran's nuclear facilities, it has now shipped 82 tons of uranium fuel rods to Iran, leading to the expectation that Bushehr could be operational around the end of next year.
Russia claims that this is consistent with its own opposition to Iran developing nuclear weapons, since Iran has committed to returning spent fuel rods - which contain enough plutonium to produce bombs - back to Russia. The US has tried to make lemonade out of lemons by not objecting, and arguing that Iran now has no excuse for not shutting down its own enrichment program.
We must remember that in 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq's French-built Osirak reactor, despite a similar agreement that it would be maintained under international safeguards. And the Israeli strike came just before fuel was supplied to the reactor, to avoid the further damage that would be caused by dispersed nuclear fuel.
In Iran's case, as disturbing as are the implications of Bushehr itself, the operation of this site is actually among the less central proliferation threats. Iran is also building a "research" reactor at Arak that would produce much more plutonium and could be completed in the next few years. Most of all, there is Iran's defiant race to master the process of uranium enrichment at Natanz - which has room for 60,000 centrifuges, according to Israeli Military Intelligence - and which could result in an indigenous capacity to produce its own nuclear arsenal.
Accordingly, it is not so much Bushehr itself that is the problem, but Russia's decision to give that project a significant boost forward despite Iranian defiance regarding enrichment. What greater blow could have been dealt to the international sanctions campaign, which Russia voted for, than supplying fuel regardless of Iran's compliance with mandatory UN Security Council resolutions?
If the Iranian regime succeeds in obtaining nuclear weapons someday, the government that history will hold most responsible will be Russia's. A nuclear Iran would be a tremendous boon for all the radical Islamist forces in the region, such as Hamas, Hizbullah and al-Qaida. For this reason alone, the idea that Russia should be invited into a process designed to isolate and combat precisely these forces makes no sense. But that's not all.
Far from joining in the international consensus that Hamas must be isolated, Russia is openly siding with Hamas. In Paris, at the donor conference that raised over $7 billion in pledges for the Palestinian Authority, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: "Requiring special attention is the situation in the Gaza Strip, whose actual isolation hurts ordinary Palestinians. The worst may happen: the territory being turned into a 'high security prison.'"
What does this mean, that Hamas should be even freer to attack Israel than it is now? Where is Moscow's condemnation, at least on the level of lip service, of the constant missile attacks against Israeli civilians?
The truth is, based on its incredible behavior, Russia no longer belongs in the Quartet, or in the G8, for that matter. Moscow should not, in one moment, be allowed to run interference for the radical front attacking the West and in the next be treated as a responsible player and part of the West's collective efforts to defend itself.
It is not as though Russia has had trouble choosing sides. Rather, it has chosen the wrong side. It is time that Russia's choice had consequences.
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