by Francoise Michel Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi visits Moscow Wednesday seeking badly-needed support after Washington placed Iran alongside Iraq and North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil" developing weapons of mass destruction.
For Russia, the visit by the highest-ranking Iranian official to come to Moscow since it aligned itself with the United States in its post-September 11 anti-terrorist campaign, is a potential source of embarrassment.
While President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy has taken on a markedly pro-Western slant in recent months, Moscow has established friendly relations with its near-neighbour on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, in particular with regard to the sales of weapons and nuclear power-generating technology.
Kharazi had been due to visit Moscow in February but the visit was put off amid uncertainty over whether he would be allowed to meet Putin in person, and the incident appeared briefly to cloud relations between the two countries.
"The current situation between them is not easy. Iran needs our technology, particularly in the nuclear sphere, and it's very much in our interest to sell them our know-how, but American pressure is very strong," said Viktor Kremenyuk of the USA-Canada Institute.
"The future of relations between Moscow and Tehran depends less on settling problems between our two countries, such as the sharing out of the Caspian's resources, than on the upcoming Russia-US summit," he said, referring to the May 23-26 meeting in Moscow and Saint Petersburg between Putin and US President George W. Bush.
Kharazi's Moscow talks are likely to focus on pressing ahead with the construction of its nuclear plant at Bushehr where delays have accumulated, much to the displeasure of the Iranians.
The plant, ordered from Russia in January 1994 after the German constructor Siemens backed out of a similar project under US pressure, is due to come onstream in 2004, according to the most recent estimate put forward by the Russians.
Despite the presence of monitors from the International Atomic Energy Association, Washington sees Bushehr as the possible means for Tehran to build nuclear weapons and has accused Moscow of being an "active proliferator."
"Bushehr has survived all the US criticism, and the (one billion dollar) contract will be completed," said Ivan Sofronchuk of the Weapons Information Centre.
Iran is also interested in purchasing conventional weapons from Russia after Moscow in November 2000 backed out of a secret Russia-US agreement barring arms sales to the Islamic republic.
Last October Moscow and Tehran signed a military cooperation agreement opening the way to a resumption of arms sales.
Russia has concluded a deal for the sale of Mi-171 military helicopters of which 30 are to be delivered during the period 2002-03.
"Iran wants to modernise its aircraft and helicopters, but should above all purchase anti-aircraft defence facilities for its strategic sites. Smaller models would be appropriate, because the S-300 would give rise to strong opposition by the United States and Israel, said Ruslan Pukhov of the Strategy and Technology Analysis Centre.
"These sales are legal, but we can't sell Iran everything we'd like to. On the other hand, the Americans can't block every contract," he noted.
Kremenyuk believed Putin could begin distancing himself from Tehran "if Bush offers material support in exchange for our cooperation."
But Putin "is unlikely to make further unilateral concessions as he did over the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty or winding up the Russian base in Cuba," he said.
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Moscow Fiercely Attacks CIA Report On Contracts With Iran
Moscow (AFP) Feb 7, 2002
The Russian government on Thursday savagely attacked a CIA report linking Russia to sales of sensitive technologies to Iran and other states, declaring the accusations "categorically unacceptable."
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