- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Bush administration needs to change its United Nations negotiating strategy on Iran’s nuclear weapons program immediately, or risk having the talks negotiated down by State Department bureaucrats to a meaningless goo.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that a draft U.N. statement on Iran “includes points that effectively lay the groundwork for sanctions against Iran.”

Mr. Lavrov wants to defer yet again to the International Atomic Energy Agency and keep the Security Council out of it. But the IAEA by its very statute is not the competent authority for putting pressure on Iran. It can gather information, inspect, place seals on Iranian facilities — until the Iranians remove them. But it has no enforcement powers.

Russia is clearly playing a double game. On the one hand, Mr. Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin do not want to create undue tension between Moscow and Washington, so they maintain the ploy of civil negotiations. On the other, they want to ensure Iran has enough time to complete its nuclear weapons plans.

Iran has announced plans to install 3,000 enrichment centrifuges at its plant in Natanz this fall. Just this week, reports surfaced a pilot enrichment cascade of 164 centrifuges was now up and running, giving Iran a “live” uranium enrichment capability where it can test technology for use in other, clandestine plants.

So why are the Russians so intent on helping Iran go nuclear?

The key can be found in a 1995 document, prepared for the official think tank of the General Staff of Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. I published key portions of the document in the appendix of my book “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.”

The broad-ranging study proposed a new strategy for countering the “main external threat” to the Russian Federation. Despite the end of the Cold War, the study identified the United States as that threat. Most importantly, the document urged Russian leaders to form a strategic alliance with Iraq and Iran, as a means of countering the U.S.

In addition to selling “military nuclear and missile technologies to countries such as Iraq and Iran,” the study advised that Russia could enter into “direct military alliance… above all with Iran, within the framework of which a Russian troop contingent and tactical nuclear weapons could be stationed on the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”

Recent developments in Russia’s nuclear and missile ties to Iran provide a troubling backdrop to Moscow’s U.N. stonewall diplomacy:

In December, Russia agreed to sell Iran $1 billion worth of weapons to Iran, including state-of-the-art Tor-M1 air defense missile systems, despite vigorous U.S. protests that Russia abandon the sale. These Patriot-plus missile systems are capable of simultaneously identifying and tracking up to 48 targets.

Last Oct. 27, Russia launched Iran’s first spy satellite, the Sina-1, from the Polstesk space base in Murmansk Province. Iran has integrated the Sina-1 in its latest contingency plans for a massive naval campaign against the U.S. in the Persian Gulf.

Iran continues to send Revolutionary Guards Air Force officers to Russia for “scientific training” in ballistics and other missile-related areas. In late 2005, a group of 15 Revolutionary Guards officers were training at the Faculty of Aircraft Engineering of the Samara State Aerospace University under cover of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Higher Education.

Russia military intelligence teams travel regularly to Tehran to consult with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The latest of these delegations arrived in Tehran March 7 and stayed two days. My Iranian sources say the Russians were advising Iran how to prepare for eventual international sanctions.

Over the last two weeks, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has seized control of the negotiations at the United Nations, virtually sidelining Ambassador John Bolton.

“All sides need to be flexible,” Mr. Burns reminded reporters Tuesday. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take…. But eventually, I think that these countries are going to agree to a presidential statement.”

A “presidential statement” from the U.N. Security Council is a very weak document. Essentially, it’s a bare statement of principles that will include nothing objectionable to any of the 15 Council members. In other words, it means negotiating down to the least common denominator.

Much more potent would be a U.N. Security Council resolution, which must come to a vote and requires approval by a majority of Council members, not unanimity.

Despite protests and abstentions, the Security Council approved 17 such resolutions demanding Saddam Hussein comply with U.N. disarmament demands. A single resolution demanding Iran do the same is the bare minimum we should expect from the Council — and from the Bush administration.

If Russia wants to play a double game on Iran, so be it. It’s time to put Russia’s intentions to the test. Allowing Mr. Putin and his team to buy more time for Iran to complete its nuclear facilities is not an acceptable alternative.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of Middle East Data Project, Inc. and author: “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.”

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