Caspian Hospitality Putin Sends Strong Messages at Tehran Conference
At a meeting of Caspian nations that kicked off in Tehran Tuesday, the subtle message seems to be: Iran can develop peaceful nuclear energy, don't think about trying to stop it militarily and, by the way, stay away from our oil.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (r) greets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (l) at the presidential office in Tehran. The two have used a conference of Caspian nations to express solidarity in the face of perceived threats against Tehran's suspected ambition for nuclear weapons.
In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced support for Iran's efforts to proceed with its plans to have a nuclear power plant. "We signed today a declaration which confirms the right of every nation to develop peaceful nuclear programmes without restrictions," Putin said before bilateral talks.
In addition, the five nations at the meeting -- Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- signed a declaration stating that "under no circumstances will they allow (the use of their) territories by third countries to launch aggression or other military action against any of the member states."
This proclamation would seem to refer to the fight brewing between Iran and a number of Western countries -- most notably the United States and France -- who are trying to prevent Iran from taking any steps toward becoming a nuclear power. Iran has ignored two rounds of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, and rumors have circulated for months that military action against Iran is possible, if not imminent. More specifically, as US military officials have inspected airfields in Azerbaijan, the comment would seem to be a message to that country to abandon any putative ideas of providing support to possible military action.
Last week, much to Washington's annoyance, Putin said that he had no "objective data" indicating that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and that he would therefore give it the benefit of the doubt.
The final shot fired over the Western bow on Tuesday concerned more economic issues. In a statement, Putin warned against US-backed efforts to re-route a pipeline for Central Asian and Caspian hydrocarbons around Russia. "Projects that may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations," Putin said.
The meetings have been called to address issues of how to share the region's natural resources. The region is believed to have the world's third-largest energy reserves. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there have been conflicting claims of ownership among the five countries bordering the inland sea.
Putin's trip, the first by a Kremlin leader to the region since 1943, came despite reports of threats against his life.