Iran update: number 127


  • Russia decides not to sell Iran its S-300 anti-aircraft system
  • In the second presidential debate, Obama and McCain sound off on sanctions
  • The Bush Administration holds off on establishing permanent diplomatic presence in Iran
  • Iran refutes earlier hints that it might cease uranium enrichment on condition that it receives a guaranteed international supply of nuclear fuel
  • Iran withdraws its bid to be on the board of the IAEA in favor of regional partner Syria


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Moscow hoped to play a “constructive role” in the Mideast, during a state visit by outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On October 9, the Russian Foreign Ministry indicated that Rosoboronexport would not be selling its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. The sale’s possibility alarmed many in Israel; Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, had suggested that any such sale of advanced weaponry to Muslim countries would upset the Mideast’s present strategic balance. The S-300 would ostensibly be used to better defend Iran’s nuclear infrastructure against a possible Israeli preemptive strike. Foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko stated that his country does not “supply those types of armaments to countries located in regions that are, to put it mildly, uneasy,” and ensures that weapons export decisions are based on “preserving the balance of power in the given region.” Russia is helping to construct a nuclear plant at Bushehr, in Iran, and supply it with uranium fuel.

In the second of three presidential debates, on October 7, candidates Barack Obama (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) both pledged themselves, if elected, to tougher sanctions for Iran in an effort to curtail its nuclear program. Senator Obama referred to an Iranian nuclear weapon as a “game-changer in the region,” which would “not only threaten Israel,” but also create the prospect of “nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.” If elected, Obama committed his administration to tighter sanctions and a restriction of gasoline imports to Iran. Echoing Obama’s warning, Senator McCain discussed the strain on the stability of the region, and Israel’s security, if Iran were to acquire a nuclear bomb. Citing concerns of escalation, McCain noted that “tensions would be ratcheted up,” before stressing that a McCain administration would work with American allies to “modify [Iran’s] behavior.”

The Bush Administration appears to have reversed its decision to establish a diplomatic mission in Iran, on October 4th, fearing that such a move would unduly affect the upcoming US presidential election in November, and opened up criticism of McCain as defending a more hard-line approach to Iran that President Bush. The mission would have been the first such diplomatic presence in Iran since the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-80, and would appear to be closer to the position of Senator Obama, who has stressed his support for direct, low-level, talks with Iran and North Korea at a more senior diplomatic level. A controversial bill before Congress that could have led to a military blockade of Iran failed to reach a final vote before the end of Congress.

The IAEA has been digesting evidence suggesting that a lone Russian scientist could have assisted Iran in its alleged nuclear weapon studies. IAEA inspectors have hinted that they believe the evidence to be compelling, without explaining why. Verification expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote a blog in response to the New York Times article pointing to a possible link to a previous story involving a Russian scientist involved in a CIA sting operation. We may yet have to reserve judgment.

Countering earlier hints that Iran might halt its own uranium enrichment program if a stable source of nuclear fuel were supplied, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that it would continue to enrich uranium to achieve full self-sufficiency even in the presence of a guarantee for such material. Nonetheless, Mottaki held the door open for some level of discussion over his country’s nuclear program, suggesting that if “sufficient political will exists,” among the interested parties, some accord could be reached. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian Parliament, confirmed that he believed talks could be successful if other countries were prepared to offer reasonable terms.

Earlier this month, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, withdrew his country’s bid for a seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board. Instead, Iran has thrown its support behind Syria, which also has the support of the Arab League but has been accused of secret nuclear activity and is currently under investigation. IAEA inspections have so far turned up no evidence of nuclear deceit on Syria’s part. The seat, held for either a Mideast or South Asian nation, is hotly contested between several powers in the region, including America’s preferred candidate, Afghanistan. Iran is also attempting election for a two-year seat on the Security Council, but is likely to be beaten by Japan.

Calls for a so-called “grand bargain” with Iran have increased in the final weeks of the US presidential election. Flynt and Hillary Leverett argue that negotiations over individual issues require good faith sacrifices unlikely in the present climate of distrust. Such a bargain would involve a host of confidence-building measures. Iran could consider commitments to addressing concerns about its fuel-cycle activities, accede to the Additional Protocol and launch multilateral talks on its nuclear program, and agree to stop arming Hezbollah, Hamas, and other militant groups. The United States, for its part, could commit to not using force to compel a change of borders or government of Iran, agree to end unilateral sanctions by executive order and to re-establish full diplomatic relations. Recent discussions with senior Iranian diplomats, including Foreign Minister Mottaki, have led some to conclude that sufficient interest exists within Iran for deal-making. The solution to the Iranian puzzle, it can be inferred, is to see the big picture-rather than attempting to solve it one piece at a time.



Stories and links

Russia indicates no S-300 for Iran, Associated Press, October 9, 2008;_ylt=AjNxN1y1BRg8MtxpZZxQ3.sLewgF

McCain, Obama would toughen sanctions on Iran, Ross Colvin, October 7, 2008;_ylt=AhXisjg1tUINN.nxzFcW3cELewgF

Medvedev vows ‘constructive’ Mideast role to Olmert, AFP, October 7, 2008;_ylt=AtpKoiJmGS2syCAAtmTiK0wLewgF

Iran to enrich uranium even if fuel supply guaranteed , The Nation (Pakistan), October 5, 2008

Politics scuttles plan to put US diplomats in Iran, Matthew Lee, October 4, 2008;_ylt=AhuAktGq2PjtI_2VxeRZgzYLewgF

Iran backs Syria at nuclear body, October 1, 2008


Comments, editorials and analysis

The latter-day sultan: power and politics in Iran, Akbar Ganji, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008

Warning signs of an Israeli Strike on Iran, David Owen, The Sunday Times (London), October 12, 2008

Iran’s nuclear waltz: An ominous UN report, but more diplomatic dancing, Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2008

Obama or McCain: Iran stance won’t change, Michael Rubin, The Australian via Middle East Forum, October 3, 2008

OFAC Grants Permission to Iranian American Organization to Open Office in Tehran, Carah Ong, Iran Nuclear Watch Blog, October 3, 2008

Iran fears nuclear witchhunt, Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times Online, October 2, 2008

Boxed in: Containing a nuclear Iran, Michael Rubin, Jane’s Intelligence Review via Middle East Forum, October 2008

The Grand Bargain, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Washington Monthly Magazine, Aug./Sept./Oct. 2008

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