Thursday, February 14, 2008

Russian Roulette

I've seen a couple of posts and articles around the web today flagging Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments condemning Iran's missile and uranium enrichment programs. From the BBC via Andy Grotto over at Arms Control Wonk, here's the oft-cited money quote:

We don't approve of Iran's permanent demonstration of its intentions to develop its rocket sector and continue to enrich uranium.

It seems to square with a recent change in tone coming out of Moscow. But if you take a closer look at Lavrov's full comments, this time from ITAR-TASS, there's definitely some room for skepticism as to just how full circle the Russians have come in their stance on the Iranian nuclear program:

However, international law does not prohibit these actions...

...[T]here is a certain positive moment in this problem. This moment is related to Iranís cooperation to close the issues, which emerged earlier due to its nuclear activity. At present, these problems are being solved satisfactorily and weíll wait for the IAEA director-generalís report.

The ITAR-TASS translation is a bit mangled, but Lavrov was basically calling for both sides to calm down and quit engaging in provocative behavior. For the Iranians, that means avoiding missile launches and freezing its uranium enrichment until the IAEA closes its file. For the US and EU3, that means avoiding accusations that the Iranians are steps away from developing a nuclear bomb that they'll then unleash on the world. In other words, while Lavrov's remarks are definitely reasonable, they're only reassuring if you believe the Iranian program is inherently peaceful in nature.

I'm increasingly of the belief that the Iranians have nuclear weapons ambitions, even if they're willing to be extremely patient to attain them. After all, their current program is the fruit of twenty years of painstaking clandestine efforts, and is constructed in such a way as to superficially mask the military component, even while the underlying structure seems transparently revealing. So if the Russians really have come around, I'd like to see them say so in more unambiguous terms than those used by Mr. Lavrov.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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