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    Russia, EU and Iran's nuclear program

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    The UN Security Council plans to vote on a draft Iranian resolution on December 24. The five permanent members of the Council (the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France) and Germany still cannot agree on the proposed sanctions against Iran.

    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - The UN Security Council plans to vote on a draft Iranian resolution on December 24. The five permanent members of the Council (the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France) and Germany still cannot agree on the proposed sanctions against Iran.

    The stance of the European trio, which represents the European Union, dramatically differs from Russia's position on the issue. The Kremlin believes that sanctions should be specific and cover only the sectors that worry the International Atomic Energy Agency, namely uranium enrichment, chemical reprocessing, heavy-water projects, and the production of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons.

    In a recent interview with Mexican publisher Mario Vasquez Rana, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote that Russia's stance on the solution of the Iranian problem was aimed at encouraging Tehran to talk with the IAEA in order to clarify the agency's questions and therefore restore the world's trust in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. The Kremlin's logic is clear.

    The European project, however, has a wider reach and stipulates a ban on trade with Iran in all spheres connected with its nuclear and missile programs, denial of visas to some Iranian officials, and a freeze on their funds and the funds of some Iranian companies abroad.

    Moscow is unlikely to accept this stance, primarily because this loose wording could be used to include sanctions on the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, which is being built with Russian assistance, and other spheres.

    The six nations badly need to come to an agreement on the problem of Iran to draft an acceptable resolution and save the reputation of the Security Council.

    Their meetings are becoming increasingly farcical. More than three months have passed since the August 31 deadline by which Tehran should have stopped work on its first cascade of 164 uranium enrichment centrifuges. Since then, Iran has put into operation (although with a two-month delay) a second cascade.

    Tehran has announced that it intends to complete its nuclear research program by the Iranian New Year on March 21. This involves the assembly of a cascade of 3,000 centrifuges, which it needs for the commercial stage of uranium enrichment. Russian and foreign experts believe that these centrifuges will enable Iran to create five to seven nuclear charges within 12 months.

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced plans to receive the first batch of enriched uranium after commissioning 60,000 centrifuges.

    The Natanz nuclear facility, where Iran is enriching uranium, is designed to accommodate only 54,000 centrifuges, but experts say that would be enough to create a nuclear bomb within two weeks. They also say the Natanz facility could reach its designed capacity in five to seven years.

    Many Russian experts, however, think that Iran is bluffing when it speaks about turning on 3,000 centrifuges in March 2007. It could do this if it has bought the required number of centrifuges, but that is unlikely. Tehran is likely overstating its technical possibilities.

    Russian expert Alexei Arbatov said it is inevitable that Iran will master the uranium enrichment technology. Perhaps the world should discuss with Tehran the scale and technological standards of its enrichment project rather than trying to halt it altogether? Maybe it should ask Tehran to stop at 1,000 centrifuges while there is still time? This compromise would allow Iran to carry on its nuclear research while also allaying global concerns about its nuclear program.

    Nevertheless, these are nothing more than assumptions, and Iran has demonstrated its readiness to harness nuclear energy at all costs and despite the possibility of sanctions.

    "Iran has made a crucial decision and is moving honorably along its chosen path," Ahmadinejad has said. According to the Iranian president, the people of his country will not only "rebuild Iran and propel it to the pinnacles of success, but will also open the door to freedom for other nations."

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