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Putin to PM Using force against Iran could end in disaster

Yossi Melman, Haaretz | October 22 2006

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced any military operation against Iran in a meeting last week with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Putin told Olmert in the Moscow meeting that foiling Iran's nuclear program could end in disaster for the world.

Russian sources attached great importance to the Russian president's first mention of a military option in talks with an Israeli leader.

Olmert also discussed the Iranian nuclear program with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in the first meeting in eleven years between an Israeli premier and a Russian defense minister.

During his meeting with Putin, Olmert didn't talk about a military operation, but emphasized that responsibility for handling Tehran lies also with Russia, not only the U.S.

The Russian president recounted that in past talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and his aides, he had discussed how to prevent Iranian acquisition of nuclear arms. In those discussions, Putin asked if the U.S. could conduct a military operation and had a clear plan. He said the Americans didn't answer.

Putin's comments can be interpreted in two ways. It is either possible that the Americans evaded the question, or that they do not have effective military capability or an operational plan to bring to a substantial setback to the Iranian nuclear program.

In any case, the Putin administration believes that only negotiations will prevent or at least delay Iranian nuclear ambitions. This is why military action against Tehran is not an option for Russia.

Olmert asked Putin to join an American-European move to impose severe sanctions on Iran, which he referred to in a press briefing saying, "The Iranians need to be afraid that what they don't want to happen will actually happen to them."

The Prime Minister's Office declined to provide a statement and said they do not comment on the content of the premier's meetings in Moscow.

Israel hopes that if Iran does not obey international demands and does not stop enriching uranium, Russia will threaten not to complete construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor and not to supply the uranium needed to fuel it.

The Bushehr reactor, intended to generate electricity, is about four years behind schedule in starting operations. Russian and Western sources attribute the delay to both technical problems in the construction of the reactor and to Russian government decisions. Israeli and American experts do not believe Moscow is interested in Iran having nuclear weapons.

The UN Security Council is continuing in its efforts to draft a formula for sanctions that is acceptable to all five permanent members.




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