Neighbors Join Call Against Attack on Iran

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

MOSCOW, Oct. 16 -- Visiting Iran on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his opposition to any military attack on the country in response to its controversial nuclear program.

No Caspian Sea country should let its territory be used by other countries "for aggressive or military operations against another Caspian state," said Putin, who is attending a meeting in Tehran of the leaders of the five countries that border the inland sea.

The leaders jointly made a similar statement, signaling the opposition of Iran's neighbors to any military action by the United States or its allies.

None of the adjacent countries had indicated willingness to support such a strike. But as tensions rise over Iran's uranium enrichment program, which Washington and some of its allies contend masks a weapons program, there has been speculation in the region that the United States might want to use bases in Azerbaijan to attack Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "The Caspian Sea is an inland sea and it only belongs to the Caspian states, therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here."

Western officials are watching Putin's visit, the first by a Kremlin leader to Tehran since 1943, to see if the Russian leader extracts any concessions from the Iranians concerning their nuclear program. The officials complain that Russia, together with China, has been blocking imposition of stronger U.N. sanctions against the Islamic republic.

There were no apparent breakthroughs during Putin's visit. Public statements from the gathering were instead indirectly critical of Iran's foreign opponents.

The five countries -- Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- declared that any country that is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty can "carry out research and can use nuclear energy for peaceful means without discrimination." That is essentially the position of Iran, a signatory, which says all of its work is peaceful and intended to diversify its electricity sources.

Before the visit, Putin brushed aside a reported assassination plot against him by suicide bombers. He is the first leader from Moscow to visit Iran since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin met with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at a World War II summit in 1943.

Tuesday's meeting was designed to continue the process of working out disputes over allocating the Caspian Sea's rich resources of oil and natural gas. But it was overshadowed by the growing standoff over the intentions behind Iran's nuclear program.

Putin met one-on-one with Ahmadinejad and was scheduled to have dinner with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although Russia has signed on to two rounds of mild economic sanctions at the United Nations, Putin is skeptical of stronger sanctions, contending they will fail and insulate Iran from further diplomatic pressure, according to Kremlin officials.

"Threatening someone, in this case the Iranian leadership and Iranian people, will lead nowhere," Putin said in Germany on Monday before leaving for Iran. "They are not afraid, believe me."

Both the United States and the European Union support a further round of sanctions unless Iran stops its accelerated enrichment of uranium and completely opens up its program to U.N. inspections.

Putin has said there is no evidence that Iran's nuclear program has a military dimension, but the Kremlin nonetheless has delayed construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran, ostensibly because of a financial dispute. Many analysts here say the Kremlin was angered by Iran's unwillingness to accept a Russian proposal to enrich uranium, on Russian soil, for Iran's needs.

Putin refused to say if the plant could begin operation before he leaves office next year.

"I only gave promises to my mom when I was a small boy," Putin told Iranian reporters. "At the same time, we are not going to renounce our obligations."

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