Ivanov: Iran knows it can't destroy Israel

Former Russian FM to 'Post': "Hamas is the reality, Hamas is a player in this conflict."

larijani ivanov  (photo credit: AP )
larijani ivanov
(photo credit: AP )
Iran's talk of eliminating Israel is more a case of political sloganeering than genuine intent, says Russia's former foreign minister, a veteran negotiator with Teheran who knows members of the regime's leadership well. Igor Ivanov, who was also his country's national security adviser until last summer, told The Jerusalem Post that Russia was determined to work with the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining the technology necessary to build nuclear weapons, but that the West should be directly engaging with Teheran, which had concerns about its own security, and also that Israel should be talking to Hamas. Ivanov, who left Israel Thursday after participating in an international conference here on "Russia, the Middle East & the Challenge of Radical Islam," said he was "totally against" Iran's anti-Israel positions, and understood Israel's concerns and preoccupations. Iran was not merely unwilling to recognize Israel, but said it sought to destroy it, he noted. "But I think this is more political slogan than a real political decision to destroy Israel," said Ivanov, a frequent interlocutor with Teheran over the years who was foreign minister from 1998 until 2004, and was then-president Vladimir Putin's national security adviser until last July. "I don't think their political leadership is so stupid as to think they can do this," he went on. Iran wants "to lead an international movement against the American presence in the region. They want to be one of the leaders, or maybe the most important leader, in the Muslim world. They need some strong political slogans. One of them [relates] to Israel." Ivanov said he knew many of Iran's leaders personally, and that they were "very pragmatic" about the potential consequences of attacking Israel. "They are thinking about a strong Iran," he said, "and they want to play an active role... not only in the region, but on many other issues... I think it is necessary to direct these interests to the right way. The right way is to engage them in a political solution... "They are saying they want to help the world," he added. "Let us see how they can do it. But if you don't give them this chance, you will have only confrontation. I don't think that through confrontation we can reach what we want. What we want is to be sure that they don't have nuclear weapons and can't have [such weapons]. We want them to play a constructive role in [solving] the problems which we know - in Iraq, in the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian relations, in Lebanon." He said Israel and Iran and others should be at the negotiating table together, and that Israel should engage with Hamas, too. "Hamas is the reality. Hamas is a player in this conflict... To speak to Hamas today may not be very comfortable," he said, "but if you don't explain to them, maybe they think they are right." Ivanov, a 35-year diplomat, noted that he had made frequent trips to Teheran to negotiate with the Iranians over their nuclear program. He said that "nothing" Russia was doing to advance Iran's nuclear energy capabilities, notably at the Bushehr reactor, could be manipulated by Iran toward a weapons capability. All work there was being conducted under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said, and "if all our experts left Iran tomorrow, Bushehr would [simply] close down... Sometimes public opinion does not understand, thinking that we are helping Iran in some way to create military nuclear programs. This is not true." He said Russia fully shared the international community's goal of ensuring Iran could not achieve a nuclear weapons capability, and that it was crucial to prevail in the case of Iran and North Korea, because otherwise the nuclear non-proliferation framework would collapse and many more countries would move toward such a capability. Unfortunately, he acknowledged, despite the "positive" assistance being given to Iran for development of a strictly peaceful nuclear energy program on the one hand, and the coordinated "negative" efforts to deter Iran through sanctions, "we still cannot say that the nuclear problem of Iran is resolved. We don't have a legal instrument saying that everything is under control in Iran and that we are sure Iran will not develop military programs." He stressed that "we don't have any evidence that they are developing nuclear weapons," but at the same time, "we cannot say today that they will not develop [such weapons] in the future." The problem, in today's post-Cold War era, he said, was that even when the United States and Russia agreed on something, such as the need to deter Iran from nuclear weapons, there was no international "mechanism" to force other states to change course. The US has been looking to ratchet up sanctions on Teheran, which this week announced plans for a new uranium ore processing plant and said it had begun installing 6,000 new centrifuges for enrichment - which would triple its number of centrifuges - at its uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. But Russia has said there is no need for further sanctions. Ivanov told the Post that "sanctions can help you, but not as the main tool in the resolution of this problem," which could only be achieved "by political measures." He said his experience with sanctions in three cases - with Cuba, Yugoslavia and Iraq - clearly showed their limits, and that "Iran is bigger and stronger economically than all of those countries." Under sanctions, he said, "ordinary people suffer, and they will be very angry. But the anger will be not against their leadership, but against those who are imposing the sanctions, and maybe [as a consequence,] radicalism will be greater."