Israel to press visiting Putin on Iran (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/21/12 3:40 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – When Vladimir Putin visits Israel next week, the world
may want to pay attention: The Iranian nuclear program will top the
agenda — and the steely Russian president, widely viewed as coddling
the Iranians, may hold the key to avoiding a potential slide into
another Middle East war.
With close ties to Iran and a vote on the U.N. Security Council,
Russia could play a key role in the coming months in determining
whether Israel decides to attack Iran´s suspect nuclear program.
In Jerusalem, the commonly held view is that after years of
dithering, the West has woken up to the threat from Iran — but the
reluctance of Russia and China to support a crippling regime of
sanctions and pressure is emboldening the Iranians, decreasing the
chances they will back down and increasing the chances for an attack
of last resort.
"The message they (the Russians) will receive is that Israel can´t
tolerate a nuclear Iran. Of course we prefer a diplomatic solution,
but we will use all means to protect Israel´s survival," said Yacov
Livne, head of the Russia desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
"We expect Russia, as a member of the Security Council, to
demonstrate responsibility and help to prevent the Iranian nuclear
race," he said. "I think that will be the most important subject, the
central subject here next week."
Israel sees Iran as its most dangerous foe because it is convinced
that Iran´s nuclear program is meant to build bombs and not produce
energy, as Iran claims. The fears are compounded by Iran´s frequent
calls for Israel´s destruction, support for anti-Israel militants and
arsenal of ballistic missiles.
Officials here have fueled speculation about Israeli attack plans by
contending that Iran´s movement of nuclear facilities into heavily
fortified, underground bunkers will soon make the program immune to
Putin can expect pressure to join the West in its crusade to halt the
Putin´s calculations are complex. Resurgent Russia, trying to
reassert itself in the world after a couple of lean decades, is not
likely to abandon a trade partner and sometime ally; but his rhetoric
suggests he may also want to placate the Israelis, as he has warned
of "truly catastrophic" consequences should there be a military
The United States and key European nations have also made clear they
oppose an Israeli attack that would risk retaliation that could draw
in other nations and further rattle the world economy.
Iran is under three sets of Security Council sanctions, which Israel
has welcomed but also warned are not enough.
Efforts aimed at tougher U.N. sanctions have been opposed in the
Security Council by Russia and China, but others are proceeding with
On July 1, the 27 nations of the European Union will stop importing
Iranian oil. Other major importers such as Japan, India, and South
Korea have all agreed under U.S. pressure to cut back on Iranian oil
Russia, which has plenty of its own oil, is not a factor in the oil
sanctions, and it has also not participated in a Western-led effort
to blackball Iran from international banking networks, with top
officials in Moscow repeatedly objecting to "unilateral" actions
Putin´s visit comes after the inconclusive end of another round of
talks between Iran and world powers. The U.S., Russia, China, France,
Britain and Germany have held three rounds of talks with Iran in
recent months, yielding no breakthroughs in persuading Iran to rein
in uranium enrichment. A new set of low-level negotiations has been
set for July.
Israel accuses Iran of using the talks as cover to continue its
pursuit of the bomb. Israel has been pressing for a halt to
enrichment, while placing all the uranium Iran has already treated
under international supervision. Iran has rejected those demands.
Iran says its nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes like
medical research and power generation — a claim met with skepticism
in Israel and the West.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said repeatedly that Israel
can wait a weeks but not years for negotiations to succeed.
Russia´s role in the Iran standoff has been complex. Russia has
benefited handsomely from the Iranian nuclear program, having built a
$1 billion nuclear reactor in Bushehr.
At the same time, Russia continues to participate in the
international dialogue with Iran. And bowing to U.S. and Israeli
demands, Moscow has scrapped a deal to sell Iran long-range missiles
that would have provided a powerful deterrent against an air attack.
"I don´t think Russia is interested in a nuclear Iran. I think Russia
has an interest in a stable Middle East where radical Islam does not
rule," said Livne, the Foreign Ministry official.
No comment was available on the issue from Russian officials
Russia plays a sophisticated game with Iran, said Meir Javedanfar, an
Iranian-born analyst who lives in Israel. He said it´s possible that
the spectacle of Putin in Israel was designed to send a message to
Tehran that it had better curb its nuclear ambitions.
"One of the reasons Putin is coming to Israel is to put pressure on
the Iranians, to say, ´If you don´t compromise, I will align myself
more with the country that you consider to be your enemy,´"
Another subject sure to come up during the 24-hour visit is Russian
arms sales to Syria, Israel´s enemy to the north, which is in the
midst of a violent uprising against President Bashar Assad that has
been going on for 15 months.
Israel is worried that weapons in Syria will make their way to anti-
Israel Hezbollah militants in neighboring Lebanon. Israel claimed
Russian missiles sold to Syria made their way to Hezbollah during its
2006 war with the Israeli military.
Despite sometimes differing approaches, Israel and Russia enjoy
generally friendly ties, and have deep economic and cultural
relations bolstered by the more than 1 million immigrants from the
former Soviet Union who live here. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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