WASHINGTON – The former foreign minister of Russia dismissed concerns Monday that the Kremlin’s recent sale of advanced weapons to Syria could be transferred to Hizbullah or otherwise destabilize the Middle East.
“These weapons cannot be used to destabilize the region,” maintained former Russian Federation foreign minister Igor Ivanov at a press conference of the Luxembourg Forum, a group of leading US and Russian experts dedicated to preventing a nuclear catastrophe, in Washington for a major conference.
He pointed to “provisions in the contract with Syria” that specifically bar Damascus from transferring these weapons to a third party, noting that the manufacturers were also only allowed to work on the weapon installation with the Syrians.
Israel and the United States have expressed opposition to the sales, which went ahead despite a recent visit of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Russia and a meeting US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had with his counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, last week in which these concerns were conveyed.
In his meeting with Barak Monday afternoon, Gates told him that “we share Israel’s concerns about proliferation of advanced weapons that could destabilize the region,” according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
Morrell added, “Russia has a right to sell weapons to other countries, but as they do so, we hope that they take into account the strategic ramifications of each sale.”
Ivanov tells Post safeguards in place for fueling of Iran’s Bushehr reactor
Following the press conference, Ivanov told The Jerusalem Post that safeguards are in place with Russian shipments of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr reactor just as with the Syrian arms deal.
“In Bushehr, we agreed that we only continue work and will send them nuclear fuel only under international control, and international observers are there and confirm that it is impossible to use Bushehr plant in a military way,” he said. “You cannot transfer it for a military action.”
Ivanov also said that it was impossible to know whether Iran was actually trying to build a nuclear weapon, though both US and Russian intelligence agencies were sure no weapon had yet been constructed.
“I cannot read what they have in their minds,” he said, adding this doubt strengthened the need for international monitoring.
At the same time, he said Iran’s lack of actual nuclear capabilities at this point meant that their threats about their nuclear program amounted to “propaganda” and “provocations.”
Still, he said that such rhetoric could inflame the region and that Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear bomb – though he said diplomatic means were the only mechanisms that should be used for this goal.
“Any solution – and there can only be one solution, that Iran must not have nuclear weapons – any solution can only be a political solution,” Ivanov declared. “A military action would have possibly unpredictable consequences.”
He said that Russia had warned the US about such a situation, reminding officials of what happened after the invasion of Iraq as an example.
Ivanov said the international body of the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members – Russia, the US, England, France and China plus Germany) had to be strengthened, because “unity of the international community” would be the most effective way of exerting pressure on Iran.
However, the founder of the Luxembourg Forum, Moshe Kantor, argued that further sanctions and negotiations would not do anything to stop Iran. “There is a general understanding by now that even other UN Security Council resolutions with tough sanctions aren’t capable of stopping Iran’s nuclear program,” he said, adding that negotiations “will be used to the advancement of Iran.”