Cable: Russian FM said Iran deal starts with domestic enrichment

Prior to the start of the P5+1 talks in Geneva that ended earlier this week, five U.S. Senators wrote a letter to President Obama (first reported by Josh Rogin), demanding he not make any deal with Iran that would permit any domestic uranium enrichment. If that became the U.S. negotiating position, it would make any deal with the Islamic republic more or less impossible. As I wrote earlier, this is the view of non-proliferation analysts and Iran experts alike. It also was a truth recognized by the foreign minister of Russia back in 2009.

In a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, after being pressed why Russia didn’t focus on the Iranian missile programs, told Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) that Iran would put a high priority on having a full nuclear fuel cycle, including domestic enrichment.

According to the April 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow (my emphasis):

Lavrov said he was certain Iran wanted to have a full nuclear fuel cycle and would negotiate from that basis. It was unfortunate that the U.S. had not accepted the proposals a few years before when Iran only had 32 centrifuges; now they had over 5,000.  Nonetheless, Russia wanted Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA and implement, and eventually ratify, the Additional Protocol.  As agreed to in the E3-plus-3 statement, Russia wanted Iran to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, in a verifiable way.

¶13. (C) Lavrov commended the new U.S. approach to Iran, welcoming President Obama’s readiness for the U.S. to engage “fully” in talks with Iran.  Willingness to discuss “all” the issues was a welcome step, and one which Russia had been advocating for several years, Lavrov said.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. I think the cable draws a sharp contrast in foreign policy approaches of US and Russia, which can be understood in significance only in the 5, 10, 20 year time frame.

    As confirmed by this cable, Russia has demonstrated that its stance on non-proliferation is unwavering, and predictable. Her signing onto UNSC sanctions resolutions having watered them down, and having publicly criticized the unilateral snactions, creates a perfectly workable atmosphere for long-term Russia-Iran relations, as well as putting Russia on the same page as Turkey and other ‘independent’ regional stake holders.

    3 thoughtS come to mind. One is the impractical nature of US style of fair-weather coalitions vs what seems to be happening among Qatar, Oman, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Russia, etc. Theirs is a concordance of interests which, having been given intelectual shape by Dovatoglu’s “Zero problem policy”, is likely to go viral. Where as, coalitions surrounding the US are evanescing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

    second, is the corosive nature of single-issue partnerships. Again as made plain by the cable, Russia’s lack of obsession with any one single issue allows not only for practical solutions to the non-proliferation challenge, but also allows Russia to take a firm stand at UNSC without adversley effecting future relations with Iran and a host of other countries. Compare this to US policy where even short-term immediate areas that beg for cooperation(e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan) are gladly sacrificed on the alter of an unrealitic US vision of a Mid East without Iran, or at least the vision of an Iran with no nuclear scientists.

    Third, every single US ally in the region belongs in the ‘libility’ column. Frequent proclamations of a US security umbrella is matched by profligate military aid, etc. Russia, in contrast, seems to have picked stable nations with mature traditions of state craft who are able to independently handle the kind of troubles they may find themselves in. But, just to be sure there is no misunderstanding, Putin is on record for saying Russia is in no obligation to come to anyone’s defense.

  2. Some shrewd points from BiBiJon. The Russians — in this case at least — are pragmatists. The Gang of Five from the Senate is either dreaming or itching for a fight.

  3. Jon, most unfortunately, we seem to be itching for a fight with any and all comers. We’d be better served to go home, sleep off our liquor, and offer our apologies in the morning.

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