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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Russia v. Iran - Is it political or commercial?

The New York Times is reporting this morning that Russia has told Iran to halt nuclear enrichment as demanded by the UN Security Council or Russia will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr plant:
The ultimatum was delivered in Moscow last week by Igor S. Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian National Security Council, to Ali Hosseini Tash, Iran’s deputy chief nuclear negotiator, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a confidential diplomatic exchange between two governments was involved.
No one really knows why the Russians have suddenly woken up: Recently, however, Moscow and Tehran have been engaged in a public argument about whether Iran has paid its bills, which may explain Russia’s apparent shift. But the ultimatum may also reflect an increasing displeasure and frustration on Moscow’s part with Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium at its vast facility at Natanz.

“We’re not sure what mix of commercial and political motives are at play here,” one senior Bush administration official said in Washington. “But clearly the Russians and the Iranians are getting on each other’s nerves — and that’s not all bad.”

A senior European official said: “We consider this a very important decision by the Russians. It shows that our disagreements with the Russians about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program are tactical. Fundamentally, the Russians don’t want a nuclear Iran.”
My gut feeling is that this is a commercial dispute. We have no other indications that Russian President Putin has learned anything about the Islamic menace from his troubles in Chechnya. On the other hand, we have many indications that Putin knows all too well how to squeeze money out of his country's natural resources. I doubt he has suddenly found his conscience.


At 12:41 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I think you are correct about this being a billing dispute.

It'll be interesting to see if Russia is truly fed up with a bad customer (and therefore trying to gain some political capital out of a bad situation), or simply turning the screws to get Iran to pay up.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Jack Steiner said...

It is commercial. There is little to no evidence to suggest otherwise.


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