TEHRAN – Iran, facing U.S. pressure over its nuclear program, secured a pledge from Russia and the other three nations that surround the Caspian Sea not to allow America or its allies to launch an attack on it from their soil.
The presidents of Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed a joint declaration in Tehran today to prohibit third countries from using their territory for attacks on one another “under any circumstances.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad played up the regional summit to fete Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, as a friend of the Islamic Republic who may use his veto in the United Nations Security Council to block stricter sanctions.
Putin, the first Kremlin leader to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, reaffirmed Russia’s determination to complete the country’s first nuclear reactor.
“We are not giving up our obligations,” Putin told reporters after meeting with Ahmadinejad. “As soon as we solve the financial and legal issues, the question of the power station will be resolved.”
Construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant, at the center of western concern over Iran’s intentions, stalled earlier this year after Russia said payments were late. Asked whether he could promise the power plant would be completed by the end of his term as president next May, Putin replied: “I only used to promise things to my mother when I was little.”
Push for Sanctions
The U.S. is leading efforts to tighten international sanctions against Iran over its uranium enrichment activities, which the Bush administration says may be a cover for building weapons. The Islamic Republic claims it has a right to build Bushehr as it will be used exclusively for peaceful means.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said before a visit to Moscow last week that “we must do everything so as not to limit ourselves to catastrophic alternatives: either an Iranian bomb, or bombing Iran.”
Today’s pledge by Iran’s Caspian neighbors not to aid the West in an attack is only one clause in a preliminary document laying out common principles. The countries have disagreed over the division of the oil-rich Caspian Sea since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The U.S. has a base in Kyrgyzstan and has previously deployed troops in Uzbekistan. U.S. military officials have held talks with the governments of other former Soviet republics, including Azerbaijan.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said at today’s summit that he hoped a final decision on the sea would be ready by next year. The next regional meeting will be held in October 2008 in Azarbaijan’s capital, Baku, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing Ahmadinejad.
Iran wants the landlocked sea split into five equal parts, while the other four countries want sectors corresponding to the length of their shoreline, which would cut Iran’s share to less than 15 percent.
Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan separately agreed today to build a joint railway line along the Caspian that will link the Islamic Republic to Russia by rail.
Putin’s visit comes two days after he was warned by Russian security services about a possible assassination attempt against him. His plane arrived in Tehran this morning, 12 hours later than expected.