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Olmert In Moscow & Putin's Position.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert at night on Oct. 18 held talks in the Kremlin with President Putin, seeking to persuade him to back new UNSC sanctions against Tehran regarding its nuclear programme - after Putin's Oct. 16-17 visit to Tehran. The FT on Oct. 20 quoted a senior Israeli official as saying it was "a last-minute, urgent meeting". An Israeli government spokesman on Oct. 19 was quoted as saying Olmert was "very clear on the Israeli position that in no way can Iran achieve nuclear capability, that Iranian nuclear capability threatens the world, including Russia".

According to the Israeli media, Olmert was carrying "an unequivocal message to the Russian president: in a situation in which Iran has nuclear weapons and Syria has sophisticated weapons from Russia, Israel will have to weigh its actions against these threats".

Olmert's visit was seen as a sign of the way Putin was exploring how Russia might become the chief mediator in the stand-off between the West and Iran. In Tehran, Putin said Russia would not accept military action against Iran - something he repeated on Oct. 18 - and invited President Ahmadi-Nejad to Moscow for talks.

The FT quoted Western diplomats as saying the Russian leadership privately understood the concerns of the West that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. Russia, in their view, could be prepared to take a tough line with the Iranian regime in private. Dmitry Peskov, deputy spokesman for Putin, said he could not disclose the content of the Russian president's Tehran meetings, adding: "The issue is too complicated and too sensitive to be made public. But the main idea is obvious. It is to ensure that Iran is in full co-operation, and full transparency, with the International Atomic Energy Agency in all activities related to the nuclear dossier".

Putin on Oct. 26 compared US plans to build a missile defence shield near Russia's borders to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. But Putin quickly qualified his remarks, made after a summit with EU leaders in Portugal, saying US-Russian relations had moved on since the Cold War and that he and President Bush had a good personal relationship.

Yet Putin's deliberate evocation of one of history's most dangerous episodes did little to soothe the nerves of his European hosts who, like the US, are struggling to stabilise a relationship with Russia which has more points of friction than at any time since the Soviet Union's demise in 1991.

Putin has never disguised his hostility to the US proposal to station a missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland, a plan he says threatens Russia but which the US says is intended to counter a possible missile threat posed by Iran.

At a news conference after the Oct. 26 summit, Putin said: "Analogous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles in Cuba, led to the Caribbean crisis. For us today, from a technological viewpoint, the situation is very similar. Such a threat is being set up on our borders". But he added: "Happily, we don't see this as a new Caribbean crisis - nothing of the kind... With President Bush, this is a relationship of trust. I think I have the right to call him a personal friend, as he calls me".

Putin said that, after a recent visit to Moscow by Rice and Gates, he was certain Moscow's concerns about the plan had been heard in Washington. He said: "Our US partners must now consider how to neutralise the threats that we believe are materialising".

Bush on Oct. 23 said the missile shield was urgently needed to protect the US and UN from Iran. He warned that Tehran could have the capability to strike the US and EU with ballistic missiles within eight years. He insisted the shield was not aimed at Russia, arguing that it would be easily overwhelmed by Moscow's missile arsenal. He said: "Russia has hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads. We're planning to deploy 10 interceptors in Europe. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math".

In a speech to the National Defence University in Washington, Bush said: "The need for missile defence in Europe is real, and I believe it's urgent". Defence Secretary Gates on Oct. 23 sought to mollify Moscow by indicating that Washington might delay activating the European facilities until the threat from Iran was indisputable. He said Iran already had ballistic missiles able to hit Israel and Turkey and was developing a new generation which could reach much of Central Europe. He added: "If [Iran] chooses to do so, and the international community does not take steps to prevent it, it is possible Iran could have this capability. And we need to take it seriously - now". Visiting Prague, Gates said: "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". But Pentagon officials have said construction of a missile interceptor base in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic would not be delayed.

Bush's warning was on Oct. 23 contradicted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who said during a visit to Tokyo the US plans were based on an erroneous assessment of the Iranian threat. Talking to Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, Lavrov said: "North Korea poses a fundamental threat, but Iran does not".

Bush said a series of successful missile defence tests over the Pacific had brought the US close to having a credible shield against ballistic missiles from North Korea. But he warned that there was no similar protection in place against the threat from Iran.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Oct 29, 2007
Previous Article:Cheney On Iran & Syria.
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