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  February 22, 2009

Russia postpones Iran missile deal

Russia Today TV reports Russia keeps missile sale on table as it holds cards in Afghanistan Pt.2
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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.

Gareth Porter says that the US needs Russian and Iranian support in Afghanistan, while Russia wants to use its leverage to stop US missile deployment in Eastern Europe. The possible sale of a Russian defensive missile system to Iran gives even more cards to Russia as the Obama administration tries to work out a strategy for their Afghan war.


Russia postpones Iran missile deal

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Russia Today Television, the state-owned, English-speaking television network, reported today that Russia is holding back on its commitment, a secret commitment (of course, the question is: just how secret is it when Russia Today, a state-owned television station, is reporting about it?) of delivering S-300 missile defense system to Iran, all part of the negotiations going on with the United States to create a new kind of diplomacy in the region. To help us make sense of these moves, we're joined by Gareth Porter. Gareth is an investigative historian, a journalist, a frequent commentator on The Real News Network. Thanks. So, Gareth, before we get started, let me just show you this clip from RT.


Courtesy: Russia Today

State-sponsored TV

VOICEOVER: Iran claims the Western media is trying to demonize Russia's cooperation with them. Russia has supplied military equipment previously, and now Iran is looking for the S-300 defense system.


MAN 1 (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): Of course the Iranian only uses a range of S-300 systems. Considering that Moscow-Tehran relations are good and friendly, it's necessary to intensify them and to engage in greater cooperation in that area.

VOICEOVER: Iran is requesting deliveries of the medium-range S-300 system, which can track targets and fire at aircraft from 120 kilometers away.


MAN 2: Nobody could prevent Russia from selling defensive weapons. But you're right: probably it could be the issue for negotiations with the American side. But by no means Russian hands would be tied.

VOICEOVER: Russia says its policy isn't getting tougher towards Iran, but a surge of building trust could help advance US-Russia ties and missile defense plans, which have proved to be a real sticking point. The Obama administration, new on the world stage, has not yet announced how they will proceed with deployment of missile shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. More words and signs have been exchanged, and if diplomatic progress with Iran moves forward, it could carry over to efforts between the US and Russia.


JAY: So Russia is holding back these secret missile system from Iran, and it's all part of a very complicated dance going on right now between United States, Russia, and Iran, partly over the Iranian nuclear issue, Afghanistan, missile defense systems in Poland, and part of this defense apparatus the Americans are wanting to put in Poland and Czechoslovakia. So put this puzzle together for us.

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND HISTORIAN: Well, first of all, of course, Russia is positioning itself to be negotiating with the United States, as you suggested, on a range of issues, including Iran, including Afghanistan, including particularly the missile defense systems that they are worried the United States are putting into Eastern Europe. And, certainly, behind that, the Russians are interested in affecting the Obama administration's policy toward the Georgia-Russia conflict. I mean, they want to have the United States back off from its very aggressive posture, certainly, under the Bush administration on the Georgia issue, which involves NATO's trying to get—you know, to suggest that Georgia will become a member, eventually, of NATO. So all of these issues are things that the Russians want to have the United States negotiate about and really make some concessions to the Russians, in return for, I think, the Russians suggesting, "Well, we could back off the anti-ballistic missile system," or, I should say, the defensive ballistic missile system that they were going to sell to Iran.

JAY: Now, for the US point of view, as much as the Iranian nuclear issue has been on the agenda and Israel has made it on the agenda, most of the intelligence coming out, including recent conversations from intelligence leadership in the United States, is that it isn't an immediate threat. But what is an immediate threat for the United States is the unraveling situation in Afghanistan. And Obama has made this, you know, quote-unquote, "his war." He campaigned on the idea that this is the war we should be involved with. They seem poised to send troops. So what's the Russian role in this? In that context, what is the significance of pulling back on the missile system to Iran?

PORTER: I've seen some statements by some of the advisors to Obama from the Democratic side, the Democratic national security elite, which says, "Well, you know, we can use, we can exploit the Israeli threats to put pressure on Iran." So all that is still up in the air, and the statements made last week by (A) the president and (B) the new director for national intelligence in the Obama administration left very unclear what their understanding of Iran's intentions are. Obama seemed to be taking a worst-case approach to it, whereas the DNI was really saying, "Well, we don't know." And behind that, I would say, you know, they still don't understand the distinction very clear between a strategy on Iran's part of trying to get nuclear weapons and a strategy of simply hedging—having the option, but not moving ahead with weaponization.

JAY: If we dig into what "hedging" means, "hedging" means getting your technology to a point of enrichment of uranium that might put you a year or two years away from a weapon [inaudible] hedging.

PORTER: It means that they have the capability, they have the knowledge to make a weapon should they decide to do that.

JAY: Even that, the best estimates they're several years away from even being in a, quote-unquote, "hedging" position.

PORTER: I think that's correct. The Obama administration is now in a situation where it's trying to deal simultaneously with the decision about a buildup of troops in Afghanistan and how they're going to get access to Afghanistan. The Pakistani Khyber Pass access being, apparently, really destroyed as far as any future possibilities—.

JAY: By a recent Taliban attack.

PORTER: Well, the Taliban has complete control over that area, and it's simply not secure. The Obama administration really needs both to explore an Iranian option and a Russian option with regard to access to Iran. They simply do not have the freedom to not make concessions to one or the other, and probably to both. Specifically with regard to Iran, the Obama administration has already recognized that Iran can be and should be an ally with the United States on Afghanistan. And when I was in Tehran, this is what I was hearing from one of the specialists on the Middle East, in the Iranian think tank associated with the Iranian leadership, that they are worried about the United States making a deal with the Taliban. They don't want that. They want the United States to continue to resist. They'd like them to do more, and Iran obviously willing to cooperate with the United States [inaudible]

JAY: And this is 'cause Iran fears an extremist Sunni regime back on their border.

PORTER: Absolutely. They are a primary enemy, and they want to work with the United States to make sure that it's not going to threaten them.

JAY: What are the American cards in this situation?

PORTER: Well, the American cards are, I suppose, that they can take a hard line on Iran, which would put the Russians in a more difficult position. I think the Russians have the Obama administration by the short hairs because of Afghanistan, because of the desperate US need to be able to do something militarily on Afghanistan.

JAY: And it's interesting: Russia Today's had several stories recently defending the Russian role in Afghanistan from the past. They had a story just the other day which was "The expanding influence of Russia in Afghanistan." Is there part of a bit of a payback psychology in the Russians that "You screwed us on Afghanistan so badly. Now you're in the doo-doo. But this is still our border."

PORTER: Well, I think there's a bit of schadenfreude, to say the least, on the part of the Russians saying, "We told you so," basically, "and now," you know, "you have to sort of recognize what we had to learn the hard way. You will recognize what we had to learn the hard way."

JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let's just talk a little bit about what this means vis-à-vis Pakistan, because, you know, you can have lots of plans of Iran's and Americans and Russians, but how much they can actually influence the situation in Pakistan is a whole 'nother story. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Gareth Porter.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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