Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Russia silent on Israeli requests to pressure Iran

RAISON D'ETRE Analysts said the country would remain reluctant to impose sanctions on Tehran, to protect its strategic and commercial interests


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plea to Russia to help block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons fell on deaf ears when he met President Vladimir Putin, who in an apparent rebuff, offered no public reassurances.

Although ties between Russia and Israel have warmed dramatically since the Soviet Union collapsed, the two countries are in deep disagreement over how to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.

Israel, like the West, does not Tehran's claims that it is developing energy, and wants its nuclear capabilities nipped. But Russia continues to build Iran's first, US$800 million nuclear reactor, and has impeded UN sanctions on Tehran for refusing to scale back its nuclear ambitions.

"We don't have the privilege to ignore the true intentions of Iran, whose leadership publicly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel," Olmert said at a joint news conference with Putin after a meeting on Wednesday. "The entire international community must join ranks to block Iran's intention of arming itself with nuclear weapons."

"I leave this meeting with the sense that President Putin understands better than before the danger that lurks from Iran's direction, should it succeed in realizing its objectives of arming itself with nuclear weapons," he added.

But Putin himself remained silent, saying nothing about Iran at the news conference.

Asked afterward in a briefing with Israeli reporters whether he was disappointed by Putin's silence or had received private assurances, Olmert replied that he was convinced Putin is "very concerned" Iran might acquire nuclear capabilities. He refused to go into further detail.

Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank, said Russia would continue to hold out against imposing sanctions on Tehran, to safeguard its strong commercial interests and independent role in the Middle East.

"Russia will resist until the end. If it backs down and decides to make concessions, it will lose its image in the Muslim world," Malashenko said.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest threat, a fear compounded by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the Jewish state's destruction.

Concerns about Russia's role in the Iranian standoff grew last month after Moscow caved in to Iranian pressure and agreed, by March, to ship fuel to the atomic power plant it is building in Iran. That fuel potentially could be diverted and used to produce bombs.

Russia's supply of military technology to other Israeli enemies was another subject Olmert addressed after the meeting, but Putin did not. Israel claims Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon used Russian missiles in their summer war with Israel. Israel does not accuse Russia of directly supplying Hezbollah, but maintains the arms were sold to Syria and Iran, which sent them on to their Hezbollah proxies.

Russia has denied its missiles reached Hezbollah.

Olmert, in his briefing with the Israeli press, would not say whether the Russians confirmed Israel's claims. But he said he was "satisfied" from his talks with them that they would "do all in their power to take steps so we don't have to worry in the future."

The Lebanon war rekindled international peacemaking efforts, but progress has been elusive.

At the news conference, Putin said Russia would push to promote peacemaking.

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