PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: After announcement of unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, issued quite a remarkable statement. To discuss that and Russian-U.S. relations, I’m joined by Aijaz Ahmad, our Real News Network’s, Senior News Analyst. Aijaz here’s what Putin had to say:
“Why worsen a situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action?
Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.”
So now President Putin is talking about crazy men with razor blades, but he’s the same president that ordered Russia to vote in favour of sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Security Council not once, but twice.
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Yes. That decision I believe is going to come back to haunt the Russian government. The United States can always go back and say that since Iran is not implementing this resolution, you must now support in this, that, or the other.
JAY: While Putin is opposing the very inflammatory rhetoric of Bush, where is Russia’s position on whether or not Iran has the right to enrich Uranium for a civilian nuclear program?
AHMAD: Well, at this very recent conference of the Caspian Sea states, which took place in Tehran, Putin said categorically that he believes that Iran has nuclear program devoted only to peaceful purposes, went further and said that Russia will continue to build the Bushehr facility there.
JAY: They have an economic interest in Iran being dependent on Russia to supply the enriched uranium, which is a plan the Americans actually support.
AHMAD: That was actually Putin’s original proposal for peaceful negotiations, that having made those very categorical statements in public, Putin saw the supreme leader of Iran. And the rumour is that he presented to him, yet again, a plan which involves suspension of the uranium enrichment program in Iran for a specified period of time, while Russia undertakes to provide enriched uranium to Iran.
JAY: Which then makes Iran dependent on Russia …
AHMAD: That’s right.
JAY: …for the future of their entire energy program.
AHMAD: That’s right.
JAY: Something Iran says they’re not going to do.
AHMAD: That’s right, except that at the moment he’s saying for the Americans and for the West to back off and to avert the threat of war.
JAY: The United States is not going to get another serious resolution through the Security Council targeting Iran. China came out and made public statements distancing themselves from this recent round of sanctions. One argument being given is that the more countries don’t sign on to sanctions, the more likely the U.S. will use a military option. How far will China go and Russia go to prevent an American attack, if that’s in fact what’s being planned?
AHMAD: What can those countries do? Russia has given to Iran the state-of-the-art defensive weapons against naval attack, and so on and so forth. But beyond that, is there going to be an intervention on behalf of Iran? Of course not. Sanctions do hurt. And it is true that sanctions do then start a different kind of dialogue inside Iran as to how to cope with them, and in the process of that what to do with the nuclear program, and so on and so forth. Something very dangerous is happening, which is that Britain and France are now acting very strongly to get the E.U. to pass the same kind of sanctions against Iran that the United States has done. And if E.U. can do that, then the United States can say, “Russia and China are being obstructive, but we have the mandate from the western countries.”
JAY: But why are the Europeans signing on? I mean why, certainly, France and England? German was pretty militant in the past few months.
AHMAD: Germany has not yet quite signed on. And one reason is that among the European countries, Germany has the largest economic interests in Iran. What you have is a radical change in the domestic politics of France, where the right wing has come to power. So now you have an Anglo-French alliance pressurizing countries like Italy and Germany.
JAY: The one country that actually has some leverage is China. I’m not suggesting they would use military leverage, but they certainly have economic leverage. But there’s no sign they’re planning to use it. And even their language is rather muted.
AHMAD: The U.S. leverage with China is just as great. The real nightmare in Beijing is that the American economy will enter recession, because all these rates of growth in China and so on are so tied up with Chinese exports to the United States. On the other side of it, China is now by far the biggest importer of Irani oil. So China has extensive interests in Iran.
JAY: They have a lot to lose.
AHMAD: They have a lot to lose. And yet they just don’t have that kind of power to project.