On Iran and Energy, According to Russia

Russia’s First Deputy Press Secretary to President Putin Dmitry Peskov lays out the stakes for Russia with a nuclear-armed Iran and makes clear that Russia sees the gas pipeline running through Belarus as Russian property.

Russia's First Deputy Press Secretary to President Putin, Dmitry Peskov, lays out the stakes for Russia with a nuclear-armed Iran. In an interview with National Interest online editor Ximena Ortiz, Peskov also makes clear that Russia sees the gas pipeline running through Belarus as Russian property, not to be interfered with.

NIo Why did Russia support the Security Council resolution leveling sanctions on Iran? Was it primarily out of Russia's dissatisfaction with Iranian cooperation on the nuclear issue or was Moscow focused on broader political goals, such as Russia's relationship with the United States?

Dmitry Peskov: Moscow is concerned with the priority goal of protecting the regime of non-proliferation. This is the most important task. We have to maintain that regime and this is actually the main concern of Russia.

We are the last country in this world that would want to have a nuclear weapon at its southern borders. Let's not forget that the problem of a potentially nuclear Iran is much more vivid for us than for some other remote countries. At the same time, we have to understand that we cannot deprive other states from their right to possess peaceful nuclear energy. This is a right that we have to confirm and that we have to accept. So what is important is to ensure that the program is 100 percent peaceful.

Up to this moment, Iran refused has refused to perform in a satisfactory way for the IAEA. So the IAEA does not actually have any proof that Iran is working on a military nuclear program, but they just want to be100 percent sure. They want to have really solid and really, let's say, justified proofs.

NIo: If Iran continues to fail to satisfy all IAEA concerns, what then would be Russia's next step? Would Moscow be prepared to support more comprehensive sanctions at the Security Council?

DP: Well of course, of course. We are against sanctions for the sake of sanctions, and against sanctions that would punish the Iranian people, but we support sanctions that would be applied in a way that is sensible for IAEA experts. And that is why we supported the draft of the resolution and that's why the consensus was found at the end.

NIo: How do you expect Russia's vote to expect Russia's relationship with Iran?

DP: Well, we, while working on the resolution the Russian Federation managed to explain to its partners that the resolution will not affect the existing Russian contracts with Iranian counterparts and will not affect the continuation of works in the Bushehr nuclear plant, and will not affect other existing contracts that are under work currently.

NIo: But beyond the work at Bushehr, how do you expect the relationship to be affected, if at all?

DP: Well, we hope that it will not affect our relationship, because, I repeat, we support sanctions only that are sensible for IAEA. So we still oppose the wide-range sanctions that will not solve the problem of non-proliferation, that will not secure the regime of non-proliferation, but that will just hit Iranian people.

NIo: In Washington, there is a bipartisan consensus that Iran is indeed seeking nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. What is your president's view in this regard. Is your president convinced Iran is seeking nuclear weapons or that it is more focused on peaceful nuclear energy?

DP: Well our president is receiving information from different sources. Of course we take into consideration concerns that are voiced from all over, from the United States, from some other countries. But this is really a sensitive issue. We have to know it for sure, we have to have evidence. And even the one and only responsible body in that field, that is the IAEA, cannot say for sure, cannot present any proof that Iran is performing a military nuclear program. And of course, we take into account all the concerns but what is important is to possess a concrete proof for that. Otherwise, we all can just get into a very difficult situation.

NIo: Can you outline exactly what Moscow would like to see Iran do to satisfy all doubts regarding their program?

DP: It's very simple. We all expect Iran to respond to the concerns of IAEA experts, to fulfill the relevant resolutions of UN Security Council and to grant IAEA experts necessary access to all the sites so they can be sure that the program is of an entirely peaceful nature.

NIo: And just to revisit this question once again, in light of the fact that Russia is very concerned about applying sanctions that, as you said, are sensible and do not punish the Iranian people, how would Russia balance its desire to tailor these sanctions with a desire also to take action that would substantively affect Iran?

DP: Well we believe in UN Security Council and we believe in the capacity of the resolution that was adopted and we think that the resolution that was adopted will configure the ground for ensuring this regime. Of course we'll expect Iranian side to respond positively actually, I mean to show flexibility towards this resolution.

NIo: OK. But barring that, barring that response, how would Russian then weigh the very difficult question of not wanting to punish the Iranian population but to still take some action?

DP:  Well, we're speaking about a potential situation, let's say hypothetic situation, and I don't find it proper to make such a guess. It's too complicated and too sensitive to speak about "if" situations.