- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

JERUSALEM — Russia expects to propose a face-saving formula that it hopes will entice Iran to cancel its uranium enrichment program, said a prominent adviser to President Vladimir Putin on Middle East affairs.

Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s foreign minister and prime minister in the late 1990s, offered sketchy details of the plan during a visit to Israel and Jordan. He said the proposal calls for “established” nuclear weapons states to manufacture and supply enriched uranium to a large number of countries with peaceful nuclear energy programs.

The plan will “very possibly” be presented at the summit of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations, Mr. Primakov told The Washington Times. Russia is this year’s G-8 president, and Mr. Putin will chair the July 15-17 summit in St. Petersburg.

“The idea is that countries interested in uranium enrichment for peaceful means will turn to well-established members of the nuclear club for that purpose, instead of pursuing that process themselves,” said Mr. Primakov, 77, who serves as chairman of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and led Russia’s foreign intelligence service from 1991 to 1996.

He said the scheme would ensure that Iran, which has made its enrichment program a matter of national pride, would be “one of many” recipients of the product. “This will allow Iran to comply with the offer without losing face,” he said.

Iran has rejected previous offers of a bilateral arrangement for enrichment to take place on Russian soil.

Russia is by far the biggest supplier of nuclear equipment and facilities to Iran and stands to lose massive contracts if the United Nations imposes sanctions on Tehran.

Mr. Primakov insisted that Russia would “make all diplomatic efforts” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms, which he described as “a very negative and dangerous scenario.” But he warned against any air strikes targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying, “It might cause a huge wave of extremism in the Arab world, and Arab regimes might find it very difficult to survive in this situation.”

The veteran politician, who became close to pro-Soviet Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser when he ran the Middle East bureau of Tass, the official Soviet press agency, has acted as Mr. Putin’s troubleshooter on several Middle East missions and paid a high-profile visit to Saddam Hussein shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

With a thick autobiography about to be published this year, Mr. Primakov combined some diplomacy on this Middle East trip with a health visit to a Jordanian Dead Sea spa.

Russia, a member of the Middle East Quartet with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, also sees itself as a key player in helping resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute.

“I doubt that the conflict can be resolved without Russia’s involvement,” Mr. Primakov said.

In his interview, Mr. Primakov criticized Israel for suspending its relationship with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

“Without dialogue, one cannot make progress,” he said. “If the new Palestinian government collapses as a result of economic pressure or internal clashes with [the previously ruling] Fatah, it will not bring the stability and security that Israel so craves.”

Mr. Primakov said Hamas had been “unwise” to offer public support for a recent Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed eight civilians.

But he urged Israel to “understand that politics is a dynamic and changing process” and said it was unrealistic to demand change from Hamas “at the moment, so soon after they have been elected.”

Distributed by World News & Features

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