Friday, February 8, 2008
If this Asia Times Online article by MK Bhadrakumar is correct, a tectonic shift in the Iran nuclear standoff took place last week which garnered almost no media attention at all. Last Sunday, I flagged remarks made by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak that signalled what seemed like a hardening of tone towards the Iranian regime.
According to Bhadrakumar, to understand Kislyak's remarks and their significance, one need only look to the agreement signed three days before between US Commerce Secretary Carlos Guttierez and Sergei Kiriyenko, the director of Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom. The deal cleared the way for Russia to directly supply American nuclear power plants with reactor fuel derived from the reverse processing of its weapons-grade uranium. Previously, the deals had to be routed through an American intermediary agency that applied a 100% tariff, effectively keeping Russian fuel out of the lucrative American market. Kiriyenko estimated the deal's value at $5-6 billion over the next ten years.
Bhadrakumar adds some further dots (America's tacit approval of Russian nuclear fuel deliveries to Iran's Bushehr reactor, and its support for the Russian-sponsored uranium-enrichment bank as the foundation of a reinvigorated non-proliferation regime) before connecting them by suggesting that America has agreed to a de facto US-Russian nuclear energy cartel in return for a tougher Russian line on the Iranian nuclear program.
If so, the good news would be that, in answer to The Economist's top story this week, no, Iran has not won. The bad news being that Russia has. This would signal an enormous legitimation of Russia as a balance-tipping power that can leverage its troublemaking capacity for serious commercial and strategic concessions. And yet another validation of the idea that the long-announced multi-polar world is indeed upon us.