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January 16, 2006
Iran Blinks?

In an apparent reversal of their previous stance, Iran has now welcomed a Russian proposal to enrich Iranian uranium themselves and thus control the fuel cycle, allowing Iran to generate power without creating fissile material for a weapon. The Iranians had rejected an identical Russian overture earlier, arguing that they had a sovereign right to enrich their own uranium:

A POTENTIAL breakthrough in the nuclear stand-off with Iran came last night when the Iranian ambassador in Moscow praised a proposal to move Tehran's uranium enrichment programme to Russia.

As Britain, the United States, Russia, France and China met in London yesterday to discuss how to handle Iran's illegal nuclear development, the country was facing the growing certainty that it would be referred to the UN Security Council.

While China remained resolutely silent on the possibility of sanctions - a move which it has the power to veto - Russia made significant moves towards the western stance on Iran's nuclear programme.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said last night that his position is "very close" to that of the United States and Britain. And it appeared that he could hold the key to a resolution when Iran's ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, welcomed an offer to move the Iranian uranium enrichment programme to Russia.

Such a move would mean Iran, which is developing a missile which could reach Israel, could not acquire enough material for a bomb.

"As far as Russia's proposal is concerned, we consider it constructive and are carefully studying it. This is a good initiative to resolve the situation. We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly," said Mr Ansari.

The mullahs may finally have realized that the game was over when Russia and China both announced that they would not oppose a referral of the Iranian standoff to the UN Security Council -- a precursor to crippling economic sanctions. That's not to say that they've given up on the nuclear weapons they obviously covet; it's that the mullahs realize that by breaking the seals on their uranium-enrichment facilities, they may have overplayed their hand.

Expect the Iranians to cozy up to Russia and especially China in the weeks ahead while dragging out the negotiations on this point. They will work to exploit any rift they can find between the two Asian giants and the West in order to play both sides against the middle. Once they see any daylight, the Iranians will push the gap as wide as possible in order to get back to doing its own enrichment. Only through constant vigilance will Iran stick to this deal -- and if that sounds a lot like Europe in the 1930s to you, it does to me, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 16, 2006 10:10 PM

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