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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Is Just Biding Its Time

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Sergei Kiriyenko is a small man with big ambition. When he traveled to Tehran last week for the latest round of talks on Moscow's proposal to enrich uranium for Iran, Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, was positively beaming. Not as a result of exposure to radioactivity, thank goodness, but from recognition of the importance of his mission.

When talks wrapped up on Sunday, Kiriyenko was beaming even brighter with the knowledge that he had accomplished his mission. At a news conference, Kiriyenko and Iranian nuclear chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh announced that the two sides had reached a "basic" agreement on creating a joint venture that would enrich Iran's uranium in Russia.

It was the fourth or fifth time Moscow and Tehran have reached such a "basic" agreement on this issue, and all indications are that it won't be the last.

The proposal to create a joint venture is meant to prevent Iran from gaining direct access to enrichment technology, which would allow it to build nuclear weapons. It is also intended to assure the world community that Iran will not gain access to such technology. In theory at least, the world community would then regard the construction of nuclear facilities on Iranian territory with less suspicion. Specifically, it is hoped that the proposal will dissuade the International Atomic Energy Agency from voting to refer the case of Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions on Iran.

As always, the devil is in the details. The Iranians have agreed in principle to create a joint venture to enrich uranium in Russia. They have consistently defended their right to maintain a domestic program to enrich uranium mined on their own territory, however. Iran also insists that its specialists be granted full access to the enrichment technology employed by the joint venture.

As part of the joint venture, Iranian specialists would take a basic course of instruction from Russian scientists, after which they could simply break off the agreement whenever they saw fit and enrich uranium at home without Russian help.

If you ask me, this is exactly what the Iranians plan to do. They will never renounce their ambition to build a nuclear weapon, and they will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal. What baffles me is what the Russian government hopes to achieve in all this.

The Soviet Union was also pursuing some subtle foreign policy goal when it sent trainloads of foodstuffs and materiel to Nazi Germany up to the very day when the Germans invaded. The Soviet military also offered instruction to Wehrmacht officers and even conducted joint military exercises with Germany prior to the invasion.

I'm not trying to draw a parallel between Hitler and the fundamentalist regime in Tehran. But we must not lose sight of Iran's ultimate goal: to gain access to nuclear weapons by hook or by crook, and to use these weapons to achieve their foreign policy goals in the Middle East and elsewhere.

It is a mistake to try to apply Western rationalism when analyzing Tehran's strategy. An entirely different form of logic is at work here, and this includes the logic of negotiating as well.

When you step back and take a long, hard look at the ongoing negotiations, Iran's tactics become obvious. Tehran is dragging out the talks and playing on disagreements between Europe and the United States on the one hand, and between the West as a whole and Russia and China on the other hand. While appearing to move closer to an agreement, the Iranians have never budged on basic points, such as their domestic enrichment program, that are unacceptable to the West. On the eve of IAEA meetings, Iran will appear poised to sign on the dotted line, only to announce a few days later that its intentions had been misunderstood.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin will carry on believing that it is fulfilling a historic mission as mediator between Iran and the West, helping to avoid an armed confrontation while protecting Russia's strategic interests. But do our strategic interests really include earning a billion dollars or so completing the Bushehr plant at the cost of creating a potential nuclear power on our southern border, where religious fanatics have their finger on the button? Once the Iranians have the bomb, what's to stop them from using it the next time our paths cross -- when a Russian newspaper publishes an offensive cartoon, for example?

Georgy Bovt is editor of Profil.