Putin retaliates from Tehran

The Russian president's new approach to Iran's nuclear crisis caused grave concerns in the West, particularly in the US.

Image Credit:Photo Illustration by Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News
Gulf News

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a "historic" visit to Tehran for a meeting of Caspian Sea nations. Putin went to Iran despite reports of a possible assassination plot on his life.

He was the first Kremlin leader to travel there since 1943, when Joseph Stalin attended a summit meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin Roosevelt. This symbolic aspect was not the most important part of the visit, however.

Putin's meeting with Iranian leaders came at a time of heightened tension with the US. His visit was intended to trouble the Americans for their intransigence over plans to build a missile defence system in Eastern Europe that Moscow believes would threaten its national security and deterrence capabilities.

In retaliation, Putin wanted to show that he can complicate any US plan to hit Iran's nuclear facilities. He, therefore, sought a statement by the summit that urges all Caspian Sea nations not to allow a third party to use their territories as a lunching pad for an attack against another member state of the Caspian Sea.

Also Putin signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal with his Iranian counterpart that would include a sophisticated defence missile system to protect Iran's nuclear facilities against aerial attacks.

Moreover, he recognised Iran's right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, making clear that Moscow would not accept any military action against Tehran.

More important, perhaps, Putin pledged that the Russian-built nuclear power plant at Bushehr, in southern Iran, where construction has been slowed by a dispute over payments, would be finished as scheduled.

After his meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Iranian revolution, Putin stated that he was eager to deepen diplomatic and economic relations with Iran and that Russia was ready to "expand ties without limitations".

Putin's new approach to Iran's nuclear crisis caused grave concerns in the West and particularly in the US. At the very beginning Washington's response was hysterical.

While Putin was still in Tehran, President George W. Bush warned that a "nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three". The tone changed immediately afterwards, however.

After returning home, the Russian leader received a telephone call from Bush who, according to a White House spokesman, asked him to clarify his remarks on Iran's nuclear activities.

More significant indeed is the fact that the US started to change its approach to developing the missile defence system in Eastern Europe.

Two days after the Russian-Iranian summit in Tehran, US Assistant Secretary of State for Euro-Asian Affairs, Daniel Fried, said that the US is ready to reconsider its position on the missile shield if Iran were to suspend uranium enrichment in its nuclear programme.

New position

The Russians were informed about this new position during talks at Nato headquarters in Brussels last Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

Similar position was expressed by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates during a visit to the Czech Republic last week. Gates said that his administration might delay activating its planned East European missile defence sites.

"We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat - in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on".

These statements by senior US officials indicate that Washington has become ready to take Russia's interests more seriously than ever before.

This would not have happened, however, had Putin not visited Tehran and showed the Americans that he can complicate their plans on one of the most sensitive world issue for them, i.e. Iran's nuclear programme.

Dr Marwan Al Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria.