Putin to Olmert: No Military Action Against Iran

Russian president Vladimir Putin denounced any military operation against Iran in a meeting last week with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Putin told Olmert in the Moscow meeting that foiling Iran's nuclear program could end in disaster for the world. Russian sources attached great importance to the Russian president's first mention of a military option in talks with an Israeli leader.

Olmert also discussed the Iranian nuclear program with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in the first meeting in eleven years between an Israeli premier and a Russian defense minister.

During his meeting with Putin, Olmert didn't talk about a military operation, but emphasized that not only the U.S. but also Russia holds responsibility for handling Tehran. Putin recounted that in past talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and his aides, he had discussed how to prevent Iranian acquisition of nuclear arms. Putin asked if the U.S. could conduct a military operation and had a clear plan. He said the Americans didn't answer.

Putin's comments can be interpreted in two ways. One is that the Americans evaded the question, the other is that they didn't answer because they do not have effective military capability or an organized plan to substantially harm the Iranian nuclear program. In any case, Russia rejects an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The Putin administration believes that only negotiations will prevent or at least delay Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Olmert asked Putin to join an American-European move to impose severe sanctions on Iran, which he referred to in a press briefing saying, "The Iranians need to be afraid something will happen that they don't want to have happen."

The Prime Minister's Office declined to provide a statement and said they do not comment on the content of the premier's meetings in Moscow.

Israel hopes that if Iran does not obey international demands and does not stop enriching uranium, Russia will threaten not to complete construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor and not to supply the uranium needed to fuel it. The Bushehr reactor, slated to generate electricity, is about four years behind schedule in starting operations, a delay Russian and Western sources attribute both to technical problems in the construction of the reactor and to Russian government decisions. Israeli and American experts do not believe Moscow is interested in Iran having nuclear weapons.

The UN Security Council is continuing in its efforts to draft a formula for sanctions that is acceptable to all five permanent members.