Russian president Vladimir Putin put teeth in his threats and his cynically helpful alternative suggestions regarding the deployment of US missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 304 disclosed on June 8 that the week before the G8 opened in Germany, Moscow released the long-withheld nuclear fuel for Iran’s atomic reactor in Bushehr. It was delivered 24 hours before Israel launched its new military imaging satellite Ofeq-7, bringing forward the Iranian threat to Israel, according to DEBKAfile’s military sources. One immediate result has been the stiffening of Tehran’s negative posture, sparking what nuclear watchdog director Mohammed ElBaradei called Monday, June 11, a confrontation that needs to be urgently defused.
As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported, special nuclear containers were loaded on a train in the yard of the manufacturers JSC Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant on June 2-3. They contained two types of nuclear fuel, WER-440 and WER-1000.
The special train then headed out of Novosibirsk to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, 2,000 km away. There, the containers awaited loading aboard a Russian ship destined for Bandar Anzili, the Iranian military port on the Caspian shore. According to our Iranian sources, a fleet of Iranian trucks was waiting at the other end outside Bandar Anzili port to transport the nuclear fuel and drive it slowly and carefully to Bushehr, a distance of 850km, arriving June 10 or 11.
But DEBKAfile’s sources added the journey was interrupted by holdups ordered by the Kremlin in an episode which also laid bare the interdependence of Iran’s nuclear industry and Tehran’s program for arming Syria for war with Israel with the latest Russian munitions.
Arguments over payments due from Tehran have dogged relations with Moscow before and Putin is far from trusting.
A few days before the nuclear fuel left the Siberian factory, Tehran delivered the sum of $327m for a fresh delivery of Russian missiles to Syria. Iran pledged another $438m for further arms consignments before the fuel cargo was allowed to go forward. Putin then ordered the cargo to be loaded at Astrakhan, but await delivery in port until payment was made.
DEBKAfile picks up the story Tuesday, June 12, and reports that Iran duly deposited the money and the ship was permitted to set sail and cross the Caspian Sea to Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly went on to report that Putin never promised Bush that Russia would deny Iran the nuclear fuel for its Bushehr reactor in perpetuity, as some administration circles in Washington have claimed in the last two years. He did assure Washington, mainly in conversations with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that he would postpone delivery as long as he could, despite Moscow’s contractual commitments to Tehran.
The Bush administration’s plan to deploy missiles in East Europe made the Russian president mad enough to set this assurance aside.
His move hits the US where it hurts most: The UN Security Council meets at the end of June to approve harsher sanctions against Iran for continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of previous resolutions. The Russian fuel delivery will substantially dilute the effect of such penalties, especially when the Islamic Republic is about to clinch a deal for the acquisition of long-range ballistic missiles from North Korea (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 300 revealed on May 11).
Putin developed a complex and well thought out retaliation strategy for America’s missile deployment in East Europe.
1. A second consignment of nuclear fuel went out to India from the same Russian factory which supplied Bushehr. This was a swipe by Putin at US-Indian nuclear cooperation which it is also under attack in the US Congress. It was also meant to place Moscow at dead center of the Russian-American-Israeli contest over domination of the Indian arms market. This contest also pertains to the developing military ties between New Delhi and Tehran, which Moscow is working hard to turn to its benefit. The Kremliln has not said the last word on this contest.
2. Monday, June 4, the Russian president sent the director of the Russian Nuclear Energy Commission, Sergei Kirienko, to the Russian Interfax news agency with an announcement: “I have just visited the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant; fuel for Iran and India is ready,”? he said. “It will be delivered six months before the physical launch.”?
This statement has granted the Russian president six months’ leeway for jumping whichever way he finds expedient.
It is time enough for Moscow and Washington to reach terms on the Iran issue as well as the East Europe missile deployments. If the Bush administration digs its heels in on the missile defense shield, Russian engineers employed at Bushehr will be told to go ahead and activate the reactor even before December 2007. But if Washington relents, Russian personnel can always be told to go back to dragging their feet, as Moscow did on the nuclear fuel.