Russia in the Middle of Stalled U.N.-Iran Nuclear Talks

Olga Oliker, senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, talks with Renee Montagne about Russia's role in the stalled United Nations talks on Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

We turn now to Iran and its nuclear ambitions. In a moment we'll get a breakdown on who's guiding policy in Iran. But first we go to talks at the UN.

The five permanent Security Council members have been trying to agree on what to do about Iran's nuclear program. The United States, France and Britain have been pressing for a strong statement in support of the International Atomic Energy Agency's demand that Iran stop its nuclear activities. But Russia and China remain opposed.

Olga Oliker is a senior international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, and she joins us now.

Good morning.

Ms. OLGA OLIKER (senior international policy analyst, Rand Corporation): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: These negotiations have been going on for two weeks now. Does the fact that they appear stalled surprise you?

Ms. OLIKER: No, not at all. There are several competing interests here. There is a tremendous concern on the part of all of the members about Iran developing nuclear weapons; but there's also a believe, I think, on the part of Russia and China, that this can be worked out short of sanctions. And their concern is that a statement is going to be a first step towards sanctions, unless it's very carefully worded.

MONTAGNE: Now Russia has supported efforts to use the UN and other multi-lateral institutions to resolve international issues. Why does it seem so opposed to getting the UN Security Council involved here?

Ms. OLIKER: I think its position is that this can still be done through the IAEA--that there can be a mechanism found in which Iran can continue a civilian nuclear program with Russia's assistance. With the plan that Russia has developed, which Iran has thus far refused to accept, in which Russia provides the enriched uranium and also takes the spent fuel.

And I think it's hoping to make this work for a number of reasons. One is that this is actually, it seems like, the nice solution, if one believes that what Iran is really trying to do is build a civilian nuclear program. And second, it gives Russia an advantage. It makes it a clear player and a clear problem-solver in this arena. And too, it insures that it, you know, its business of helping Iran to develop a civilian nuclear program can go forward.

MONTAGNE: Well do you see that happening?

Ms. OLIKER: You know, right now, with it stalled, I think it's hard to predict. The Iranians hold the cards right now, and, you know, for awhile Russia's going to keep trying to push, but at some point it starts not looking very good for it to obtain any of its goals. And at that point I think its position is going to have to change.

MONTAGNE: Now, then back to these talks among the five permanent Security Council members. Do you see anything coming out of these talks?

Ms. OLIKER: Well I think what's going to happen now is, sort of bilateral talks, in that the other members are going to try to push the Russians and the Chinese to some sort of statement. Just as a first step to demonstrate to Iran that there is some unity in the Security Council. And, I think it is actually possible to craft a statement that the Russians and Chinese could go along with, something that is very clearly short of sanctions.

MONTAGNE: Now I wonder if I can ask about another matter involving Iran. That is, these proposed talks between the United States and Iran over the situation in Iraq. What are the prospects there, in your opinion?

Ms. OLIKER: I think this is a very interesting development. I think it has tremendous potential.

Iran has clear interest in what's going on in Iraq, and it has apparently been active there. It's been perceived to a large extent as a spoiler, but it also hasn't been part of the process. There's certainly an argument to be made that if you bring Iran into the process, you will get more transparency. It will be less of a spoiler, and there will be some capacity to pursue shared goals.

Iran was hopeful on Afghanistan, whether it will be, it can be helpful on Iraq or not remains to be seen. But it does seem worth a try.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. OLIKER: No problem. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Olga Oliker is a senior international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation.

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