Putin: "Iran should abandon its plans for nuclear enrichment on its soil"
Several Russian technicians work at Iran's Busehr nuclear reactor
MOSCOW -- Last weekend President Putin sat down to a dinner with dozens of Western journalists at his dacha outside Moscow and made his case for the Kremlin's energy policies and diplomacy. Both policies are widely unpopular in Western capitals, with Washington concerned about Russian technical assistance to Iran's nuclear program and the European Union fearful of being too dependent on Russia for gas.
Putin sought to reassure the reporters and think tank scholars on hand for the dinner party that Russia does not want a nuclear-armed Iran, and will be a reliable supplier of energy for the world economy.
All smiles at a recent White House meeting between Presidents Bush, Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
First, Putin acknowledged the issue that more than any other has created mistrust between Moscow and Washington since the invasion of Iraq -- Iran's nuclear program. The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland quotes the Russian President:
"Iran is a special case" located "in a very dangerous area," Putin said. Other nuclear-capable countries such as Brazil or South Africa "do not establish in their constitutions the goal of destroying another state," as he said Iran did with Israel. "Iran should abandon its plans for nuclear enrichment on its soil," he continued.
When asked specifically if Russia would support U.S. calls for sanctions, he declined to rule them out. Economic reprisals should be avoided if possible and adopted only after more discussions between Iran and the six-nation negotiating group that includes Russia and the United States. But Putin's remarks, delivered in simultaneous translation, lent weight to reports that Moscow has agreed to support symbolic sanctions if Iran remains adamant.
Second, Putin praised President Bush, while blaming the faults in his Administration's policy towards Russia on "bad advisors".
Third, Putin vowed not to sign the proposed European Union energy charter or any other agreement that would require Russia to open up its pipelines and other energy infrastructure to foreign investors. Instead, Putin prefers bilateral deals between Gazprom and European companies to establish stable long term contracts for consumers and suppliers.
No third term
Fourth, Putin again denied that he will change the Russian Constitution to permit remaining in office for a third term. "The State cannot depend on the fate of one man -- even if that man is myself." he said. "Stability is not guaranteed by one person, but by the state of society and the people" adding: "If I say - as I do - that people must abide by the law, I have no right to break it. To do so would itself be highly destabilizing."
Lastly, Putin acknowledged that an increase in immigration may be necessary to alleviate Russia's shortage of workers and slow the decline of population in the Russian Federation. Perhaps thinking of last week's ethnic strife between Russians and Chechen immigrants in Karelia, Putin cautioned: "We must also take into account the feelings of the indigenous people. If not, there will be problems." Putin listed poverty, corruption, and the country's demographic crisis as the biggest problems for his successor to tackle.