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July 8, 2006
Bush Tries Economic Leverage With Putin

George Bush has decided to create the necessary economic leverage to generate international consensus on Iran. The White House has concluded a deal on nuclear power for Russia predicated on Russian commitments to remain firm on Iran's nuclear ambitions:

President Bush will pursue a nuclear cooperation agreement when he meets Russian leader Vladimir Putin next week during a summit of industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, the White House said Saturday.

But any agreement would be conditioned on Russia helping to pressure Iran to give up its alleged desire to develop nuclear weapons, said Frederick Jones, spokesman for Bush's National Security Council.

"We have made clear to the Russians that for an agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation to go forward, we will need Russia's active cooperation in blocking Iran's attempt to obtain nuclear weapons," Jones said.

This issue has percolated between Washington and Moscow since the 1990s, when the Clinton administration refused to negotiate -- rightly -- while Moscow built Iran's nuclear capability. Back then, experts considered an Iranian nuke to be more than a decade away, and the US decided that a unilateral approach to Iranian nuclear ambitions suited our purposes. Now that the Iranians have apparently mastered the enrichment cycle, they appear much closer to a nuke.

With time running out, we need to get Iran's nuclear sponsors to stop their assistance to the mullahs. That means we have to exercise some leverage on Moscow. We could make it difficult for them at the G-8 as a "stick" approach, but that really only amounts to a one-time disincentive. The US has to provide some rational incentives for Russian cooperation. Providing them a more stable source of energy to replace the oil that Iran could provide makes sense, especially since Russia already can build its own nuclear-power plants.

The US wants to ensure a safer record for nuclear power in order to convince people of its value in reducing the reliance on Persian Gulf oil resources. Russia, which has continued to build plants even after the Chernobyl disaster, needs the US imprimatur to make deals with developing countries to sell their designs. The real value isn't in US technology, but in US approval of Russian exports. The US will likely insist on safer designs, and the Russians can then sell the best designs for reactors which will not produce weapons-grade fissile material. The US will indirectly then reduce the reliance on Middle East oil, dropping prices as well as Arab influence on world events.

Can we trust Putin? I doubt Putin really wants to see a nuclearized Southwest Asia, but Russia needs hard cash and has little else to offer these days. If we take the chains off and allow Russia to sell safe nuclear power to Third World countries for their economic development, we may kill a number of birds with one stone -- and have additional leverage with which to shut down the mullahcracy's attempt to develop the bomb.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 8, 2006 9:16 PM

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