Iran and Russia have clashed over Tehran's nuclear programme in what has been described as 'one of the worst rows between the two powers since the Cold War.'
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a televised speech to sharply criticise Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, for Russia's support for new American-backed sanctions against Iran. Ahmadinejad stated: 'If I were the Russian president, when making decisions about subjects related to a great nation (Iran) ... I would act more cautiously, I would think more.'
He called on Russia to change its 'unacceptable' stance on the issue or face being viewed as an enemy to Iran, adding: 'We do not like to see our neighbour supporting those who have shown animosity to us for 30 years.'
Sergei Prikhodko, a Kremlin aide, said on Wednesday that Russia's position on proposed new sanctions, which would punish Iranian financial institutions and countries that offer Iran nuclear related technology, is neither pro-Iranian nor pro-American but rather guided by Russia's own long-term interests. He also called on the Iranian president to avoid 'political demagoguery.' The war of words came amidst reports that both Russia and China have thrown their support behind the proposed new sanctions.
In contrast to his rebuke of the Kremlin, Ahmadinejad urged US President Barack Obama to accept a uranium exchange deal negotiated last week by Brazil and Turkey, both of whom oppose a new round of UN sanctions against Iran. Under the deal, Iran would ship 1.2 tonnes of low-enriched uranium for to Turkey, from where it would be sent for enrichment to levels suitable for use as fuel rods but not to the extent needed to create a nuclear weapon.
The openSecurity verdict: Traditionally opposed to sanctions against Iran, Moscow's support for the latest sanctions to be proposed has roused distrust and anger in Tehran. Russia's support for the latest round of sanctions was the product of two concessions made by the US, including the 'lifting [of] American sanctions against the Russian military complex and agreeing not to ban the sale of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Tehran.' The ability to sell the S-300 air defense system to Iran will allow Russia to maintain it's strategic strength and counter balance US influence in Central Asia.
Over the course of the past decade, Russia and Iran have enjoyed good trade ties with bilateral trade amounting to $3billion this year alone. Iran has been very much dependent on Russian investment and exports, which constituted 93 percent of last year's bilateral trade between the two countries. In spite of good economic ties, however, some analysts and Iranian officials have said that Russia has used the S-300 deal and its commitment to building Iran's first nuclear power station in Bushehr as levers in its relations with Tehran, straining diplomatic ties between the two countries.
In recent months, Russia has consistently expressed its concern about the growing secrecy surrounding Iran's nuclear programme and the Kremlin's support for new sanctions has made it evident that Russia does not want another nuclear armed power in the region. Pyotr Goncharov, a Moscow-based analyst, expressed Russian exasperation with Iran to Reuters, stating: 'Moscow has repeatedly saved Iran from very tough sanctions, so Ahmadinejad's defiance [today] is quite frankly out of place. It is simply the latest attempt by the Iranian president to lay the blame for his own problems at someone else's door.'
Although President Ahmadinejad chose to single out Russia, the Chinese too have indicated their support for the same sanctions package. In similar vein to the Russians, the Chinese have ensured that the new sanctions do not restrict China's trade ties with Iran from expanding and that China's interest in Iranian energy, trade and financial sectors are protected. China has, however, expressed a desire to enter into dialogue and find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Jiang Yu, China's foreign ministry spokesman, said yesterday that 'The Security Council discussing the Iranian nuclear issue does not mean the end of diplomatic efforts' and that China values and welcomes the agreement reached by Brazil, Turkey and Iran.
The convergence of the major powers on the draft sanctions proposal has certainly rapped up the pressure on Iran, though their disagreement has prevented the imposition of the harshest blanket sanctions. As a result, some analysts say that Tehran has signaled an eagerness to enter into negotiations on the issue and has even extended some peace feelers. These have included the acceptance of a nuclear fuel swap deal last week and allowing a visit by mothers of three American hikers imprisoned in Iran. These moves are seen to be indicative of Iran wanting to mend ties with the US, or at the very least, preventing an escalation of tensions on both sides.
Car bomb blast hits NATO base in Kandahar
A car bomb exploded near a NATO base in Kandahar on Wednesday injuring two people. Officials said explosives had been planted in a car outside the gate of Camp Nathan Smith, which houses American and Canadian soldiers and civilian employees. Though the Taliban have not claimed responsibility, they have over the past few weeks carried out well coordinated suicide bombings and raids on foreign military bases.
Meanwhile in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan, the authorities have called for reinforcements in clashes with Taliban fighters they say are from neighbouring Pakistan. The BBC reports that officials 'say nearly 300 insurgents led by Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah entered the area this week' and ongoing clashes have so far killed seven militants and three policemen.
Elsewhere the International Committee of the Red Cross defended itself from criticism on Wednesday after it emerged that it had provided first aid training to over seventy members of the Taliban last month. The Red Cross, which aims to remain neutral in conflict-zones, also trained more than 100 Afghan soldiers and policemen together with 'a network of taxi drivers who operate an unofficial ambulance service in Helmand and Kandahar province.'
Israel violates Lebanese airspace
The Lebanese military today opened anti-aircraft fire on two Israeli warplanes that were violating Lebanon's airspace. Israel has previously argued that overflights, which are a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are necessary to monitor Hezbollah rebels that it accuses of amassing arms in southern Lebanon.
Meanwhile, eight ships sailing towards Gaza with hundreds of international activists and 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will arrive later this week, in a mission that is likely to end in confrontation with Israel's navy. Israel has already said that it will not allow the convoy to reach Gaza. An Israeli army official, Colonel Moshe Levi, described the maneuver as a 'provocation' since he claims that building supplies on board the ship are available in Gaza, where the situation is 'good and stable.' However, a recent UN report on Gaza does not correspond with such claims and instead found that three-quarters of the buildings damaged during Israel's offensive in Gaza last year are still awaiting repairs.
Conflict in Jamaica kills 44
Three days of intense fighting between security forces and supporters of a drug lord have left 44 people dead. Jamaican authorities said on Wednesday that they had more than 500 people in custody and had intensified their search for drug baron Christopher "Dudus" Coke. CNN reports that 'some semblance of calm appeared to have taken hold' in the capital, Kingston, and that no murders were reported overnight.
In a separate development on Wednesday, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding dismissed and denied reports on the US-ABC network which described him as 'a known criminal affiliate of hunted drug lord' Christopher "Dudus" Coke. A statement issued by the government also expressed outraged at an article in The Independent which said that the hunted drug gang was on the 'payroll of Jamaican prime minister.'
Blast kills four in southern Russian city
At least four people have been killed and many more injured in the southern Russian city of Stavropol when a bomb exploded outside a theatre on Wednesday. Reports suggest that explosives placed in a bag detonated only moments before the start of a Chechen dance show. Officials are investigating the possibility that the attack was carried out by Chechen rebels who have in recent months vowed to step up attacks in Russian cities. The region's governor, Valery Gayevsky, described today’s attack as a 'brutal provocation.' No one has yet claimed responsibility.