Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Russia's grand bargain over Iran

A Good Article
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Asia Times

"In the United States there is growing talk of a "grand bargain" with Iran, but it appears that the US has struck one already with Russian President Vladimir Putin. All is well when former Cold War enemies unite against the clear and present danger of proliferation by a "rogue state" and do so through the lofty channels of the United Nations. This they did by invoking Chapter 7, which, in effect, means that the Security Council recognizes us, and, indeed, why shouldn't he be? Per various Russian official and unofficial sources, Putin considers UN Resolution 1737, which imposes targeted sanctions on Iran and gives Tehran some 60 days to comply with its nuclear demands or face tougher measures down the road, a "diplomatic victory" for Russia.

This is how Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained it: Russia achieved a triple objective through the Security Council resolution, ie, took a step on behalf of the "non-proliferation" cause; prompted the recalcitrant Iranians to "continue negotiations"; and safeguarded its interests with Iran, above all, with respect to the Bushehr power plant it is building in Iran. The resolution exempts the plant and permits Russia-Iran cooperation to proceed with finishing it, so goes Kremlin's argument.

What is more, given Iran's defiance, Putin and his circle of policy advisers have made it crystal-clear that Russia will remain on board for follow-up punitive measures two months from now, which is probably what Putin conveyed to US President George W Bush when he placed a call to the White House right after the resolution's passage and expressed his felt need to maintain a united front on the matter. This leaves no doubt whatsoever where Moscow stands on this thorny subject that dragged on for much of 2006.

The new year therefore promises to be a better one for troubled US-Russia relations, seeing how a mere two weeks ago Putin was vilified as a Cold Warrior murdering his opponents seeking sanctuary abroad, that is, a "toxic Putin", as a right-wing media pundit put it.

Nor should we forget the deprecating image of Putin, clad Mafia-style and with a gas nozzle looking like a machine-gun in his hand, on the cover of The Economist. How quickly things change and, overnight, Putin the "rogue" spy relic is now hailed as a stable, stabilizing and trustworthy partner in the unholy battle against "mad mullahs" thirsting for a bomb to "annihilate Israel", to paraphrase a recent editorial of the pro-Israel Washington Times.

But really, what caused the sudden turnaround on Putin's part? Was it primarily Russia's fear of Iran's clandestine military program, as alleged by Washington, London and Paris? Was it Putin's unhappiness with the firebrand President Mahmud Ahmadinejad? Or was it a quiet quid pro quo with Bush, whereby Putin was let off the hook over the spy murder mystery involving a Russian dissident? Or did he receive certain open and some not so open rewards, such as Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, and, perhaps, a US pledge not to make too much fuss about Russia's less than desirable record on democracy and human rights, in exchange for backing Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair versus Iran?

One thing is for sure: we may never know the full answer any time soon and can only extrapolate from the trickle of incoming information the distinct possibility of a Bush-Putin grand bargain, whose genesis may be traced back to the Group of Eight summit in St Petersburg last summer. This, we may recall, coincided with the storms over Lebanon in that botched Israeli attempt to "decapitate Hezbollah", to paraphrase Israel's elder statesman and vice premier, Shimon Peres.

Not were only Peres' and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's prayers not answered, and not only was Israel dealt a severe blow to its military prestige after 34 days of relentless decimation of Lebanon's economic infrastructure, that brief though costly episode also coincided with the growing Iraqi quagmire. This was partly blamed on Iran and Syria, who could now boast of a "double victory" imperiling the post-Cold War status quo.

Between the two, Iran was billed as the "biggest winner" and this, in turn, meant that the "500-pound gorilla" of Iran, to quote former US senator Bob Dole, was exceeding the limits of power allotted to it by big powers. Russia, after all, has a large Muslim population that is somewhat restless and a candidate for fundamentalist indoctrination, and more so if seduced by an Iranian "regional superpower", per the words of a Russian commentator. The solution, then, according to a veteran analyst in Washington, was "to clip the mullahs' wings, and do so before they soar to the nuclear heights".

Farewell multipolarism, hello again US unilateralism thinly cloaked in the new garb of multilateralism toward Iran, as if there is an iota of heterogenity left breathing in the skin of French or German diplomacy on Iran's nukes. This is, put simply, not 2003 recycled, when European heroics against the invasion of Iraq flashed triumphantly, albeit passingly, on the horizon; rather, it is more akin to 1990-91, when the US managed its last grand global alliance against Saddam Hussein's conquest of one of Iraq's former provinces dished out by the European post-colonialists as independent Kuwait.

No wonder US State Department and White House spokespeople are now beaming bright lights on "the will of the international community" - irrespective of the fact that while all 15 Security Council members voted in favor of the Iran resolution, in effect it was the will of the Permanent Five, all nuclear-weapons states, that coalesced together against the Iranian would-be-proliferators......

.....In the end, Russia's grand nuclear bargain with Iran may turn out as the casualty of its other grand bargain with the White House, and the question haunting them for some time will be: Was it the right deal? The political future of Vladimir Putin hangs on this question."

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