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Putin boosting Russia's interests with Iran visit

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Oct 17, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Iran this week was about boosting Russia's economic and security interests more than helping Tehran, analysts said on Wednesday.

"The economic advantages of cooperation with Iran are big for Russia. That's why Russia is against sanctions" over Iran's nuclear programme, the Vedomosti business daily said in a front-page editorial.

"A nuclear weapon in Iran would be dangerous for Russia, particularly in case of US military action against Iran. Moscow has chosen prudence and friendship since Russia and Iran are close neighbours," Vedomosti added.

Putin attended a summit of Caspian Sea nations and held talks with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei Tuesday, in the first visit to Tehran by a Kremlin chief since World War II.

A joint statement issued by the Iranian presidency emphasised "the closeness of Russian and Iranian positions over the key world questions and the development of cooperation to establish a world order that is more just."

During his visit, Putin warned the West not to launch an attack over the Iranian nuclear programme, insisted Iran's Russian-built first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr would be finished on schedule and backed its right to nuclear energy.

The visit also saw Putin putting forward Russia as a possible mediator in the Iranian nuclear dispute. The Russian president is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday.

Unsurprisingly, Iran's hardline press on Wednesday played up the significance of Putin's visit as a sign of the differences between Russia and other world powers.

But Yevgeny Satanovsky of the Institute of Middle East Studies in Moscow said that Russia was really interested in keeping stability on its southern border after the conflict in Chechnya.

Russia is separated from Iran by the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

Satanovsky also saw Putin's refusal to set a precise date for the completion of the Bushehr nuclear plant as a sign that Russia wanted to be able to exert pressure on the Iranian leadership.

"Russia is not giving the Iranians everything they want, it's not giving them fuel for Bushehr," Satanovsky said, adding that support for the Iranian leadership was "the last thing Russia is thinking about."

Analysts agreed that despite Putin's statements in favour of Iran and its right to develop nuclear energy, the Russian leader expressed little concrete support for Iran's leadership.

"He sent a minimum positive signal to the Iranian side on its nuclear programme but a maximum negative message to the West," said Alexander Shumilin, a Middle East expert at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow.

But the Izvestia daily took a very different view, saying: "Putin did not just go to the summit of heads of state of the Caspian Sea countries, he did everything to show the Iranian leader in his best light."

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Commentary: Not since Stalin
Washington (UPI) Oct 17, 2007
The last visit by a Russian leader to Iran was by Joseph Stalin in December 1943 for a secret summit with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The British leader wanted the next major allied invasion to target Europe's soft underbelly in the Balkans. The Soviet dictator and the U.S. president outvoted him. Thus, the decision was reached to make the invasion of France, which took place seven months later in 1944, the next geostrategic priority. This second summit, 64 years later, could also prove momentous -- down the road.

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