Russia Opposes Iran Acquiring Nuclear Weapons

Russian leaders don't want to see Iran with a nuclear weapon any more than the U.S. does. Russian analysts point out that Iran is not far from southern Russia. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Russian territory is within range of Iranian missiles. That fact makes many in Russia nervous.

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As we've heard, the nations at the negotiating table today include Russia, which has often been seen as Iran's protector. The Russians have opposed harsh measures to stop Iran from acquiring capabilities that could be used to make a nuclear weapon. Yet Russian leaders insist they do not want to see Iran with a nuclear weapon any more than the United States does. NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Moscow.

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: In the United States, Russia is viewed as an opponent of economic sanctions against Iran, as the nation that has shielded Iran. That's a misunderstanding of the Russian view, says Sergei Rogov, director of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute in Moscow.

SERGEI ROGOV: I think that while there are some disagreements and differences between Russia and the United States on Iran, the real differences of some are big. And quite often, Russia is blamed unfairly, in the United States media, on Iran.

SHUSTER: Alexander Konovalov, a longtime analyst of Russian foreign policy, is more blunt.

ALEXANDER KONOVALOV, FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: We are completely against Iran to acquire the nuclear weapons.

SHUSTER: Russian analysts point out that Iran is not far from southern Russia. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Russian territory is within range of Iranian missiles. This fact makes many in Russia nervous.

But says Sergei Rogov, Iran's leaders have not made the crucial decision.

ROGOV: Iranians have not decided yet, to build a nuclear weapon. They want to keep their options open. And that of course permits to engage in the worst-case scenario speculation that Iranians want to build nuclear weapons.

SHUSTER: Russian leaders point out that, under pressure from the U.S., Moscow declined to sell Iran a sophisticated air defense system, the S-300, that Tehran could use to defend against air attack.

All along though, Russia has resisted the imposition of serious sanctions on Iran. Moscow seemed more interested in checking U.S. power than in formulating a realistic policy that might change Iran's behavior. Russia also opposes the use of military force against Iran.

But now, says Alexander Konovalov, the Russians have come to see sanctions as the lesser of two evils.

ANALYST: It seems to me that sanctions, it can be powerful instrument if they are very tough, and can bring results, not as quickly as immediate military attack.

SHUSTER: So Russia now realizes it has become necessary to take a more assertive role in the talks with Iran. After the first round in Istanbul last month, Russia made some proposals to nudge the diplomatic process forward. As a start, Iran might freeze the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges it has installed and place some restrictions on their use, says Vladimir Yevseyev, the director of the Public Policy Research Center here in Moscow.

VLADIMIR YEVSEYEV: It is necessary to suspend the process. If you'll be suspended it will be good. But now Iran is speaking not of suspended, only limited, limited - but how limited?

SHUSTER: If Iran were to take such a step, the Europeans would have to make a concession of their own, in Yevseyev's view.

YEVSEYEV: For Europe, it is a good idea to make a half a step - suspending, suspending - some financial sanctions.

SHUSTER: Or perhaps delaying the European decision to boycott Iranian oil. This was a moderate step on Russia's part, but significant nevertheless, says Alexander Konovalov.

ANALYST: It is always possible to do more, but Russia is really interested not to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. And to avoid - it is not less important of all - to avoid war, big military operations in the Gulf area.

SHUSTER: When Russian diplomats put these ideas on the table recently, it appears that both Iran and the U.S. and Europe showed some interest. How much interest remains to be seen.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Moscow.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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