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Analysts Say Russia's Influence on Iran Very Limited

How to deal with and what to do with Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations is expected to be discussed during the upcoming Moscow summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev. Iran's nuclear weapons program is of major concern to the Obama administration.

What is the uranium enrichment plan designed for?

The United States and the European Union believe Iran's uranium enrichment program is designed ultimately to build nuclear arms. Tehran says it only wants to use its enriched uranium for peaceful purposes, such as generating electricity.

In an interview with VOA's "Press Conference USA", former U.S. National Security Adviser (retired Air Force) General Brent Scowcroft said it is essential to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

"Because I think if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, it is not so much that they have a few nuclear weapons, but that the response in the region will be a nuclear response and you will have countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and so on, doing the same thing," said Brent Scowcroft.

In an effort to counter the possible nuclear threat from Tehran, the Obama administration is looking at the possibility of stationing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe made up of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic.

U.S. officials have said the system is not targeted against Moscow as stated by Russian officials who remain strongly opposed to the proposed plan.

Daryll Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association, an independent research organization.

"A few interceptors in Poland would not negate hundreds of nuclear-armed Russian ballistic missiles," said Daryll Kimball. "But what the Russians are concerned about is that over time, this system that the United States has been developing over the past several years will expand and become a real threat. They are also concerned about it because these facilities - the radar in the Czech Republic and the interceptor base in Poland - are in former eastern bloc countries, they would be literally on the doorstep of Russia."

Bush, Obama differ on missile defense shield in Europe

While the Bush administration was wholeheartedly behind the missile shield plan, President Obama has been more cautious. He has stated that his commitment to the program will be based on the nature of Iran's threat and whether or not the system is technically feasible.

Robert Legvold from Columbia University says President Obama presented his administration's position in a letter to the Russian president in February.

"In effect what he said is, look, this system is designed for a potential Iranian threat," said Robert Legvold. "If that threat diminishes or disappears, then the urgency of going forward with the system also eases. He didn't put it in terms of a quid pro quo - if you help us prevent Iran from going forward, then we promise we won't go forward with the system - that's the way it got reported in the press in a misleading fashion, but he suggested there was a logical connection between the two. The Russians have made it plain that they are not interested in creating that linkage."

Many experts say whether Tehran decides to curtail its nuclear weapons aspirations could be based on how much pressure Russia exerts on Tehran.

But other analysts, including David Kramer, a former senior U.S. State Department official in the Bush administration (now with the German Marshall Fund in the United States), say Russia's influence over Iran is limited.

"I've been skeptical about Russia's ability: one - to have leverage to use over Iran, and two - its willingness to do so, even if it did have it," said David Kramer. "Russia has a lot of interests in Iran: significant trade, nuclear reactor construction, energy, arms sales. And I've been of the view that Russia would much prefer for the United States and other countries to play the role of the bad guy, to lean on Iran, to be the one pushing for sanctions while Russia stays in the background."

The potential Iranian threat will be one of the issues discussed during the upcoming summit meeting in Moscow. Analysts say it will be interesting to see if President Obama will be able to enlist the help of President Medvedev in dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations.