February  № 2. Qazyna Magazine

By  Nikolay Kuzmin

UNLIMITED URANIUM POKERInformation about delivery of Kazakhstan uranium to Iran has become one of the elements of the half a century long nuclear poker, a popular international game where the main element is bluff”, believes Nikolay Kuzmin.

InternationaI relations are conventionally compared with chess playing.It allows representing the geopolitical map in the form of a chess-board and countries and governments as chess pieces. The image of a chess-board adds to discussions about the Big Central Asia similar to the way a good Power Point presentation supplements a conference report. Also, this image related to the ancient and noble game does not associate with napalm, bombs, and other elements of real politics. Finally, it flatters participants who can feel themselves followers of Taileran, Metternich or Gorchakov, and successors of the high art diplomacy.

However, comparison with the chess game which opens up possibilities for neat metaphors does not allow to understand essence of events at international summits or the sense of representations made by leaders of conflicting states. Simple description of negotiations of some international problems, whether the Caribbean crisis of 1962 or preparation for intervention in Iraq 40 years later, makes us speak about the poker rather than the chess game; the game where options and intentions of an opponent often unknown and can hardly be analyzed, the game where the one possessing better bluffing skills wins rather than the one having the strongest combination.

Kazakhstan is well aware of rules of this game. We have been playing the oil-gas poker for about twenty years, and each year better and better. We have learnt how to bluff and identify opponents’ bluffing. For example, we played the second Kashagan game better than the fist one. However the uranium poker requires self-control and composure whereas the game principles are the same. The gambling is higher since in the process of uranium enrichment the distinction between economic and military-political security is very conventional. Therefore economic sanctions are often supported by power. Thus in 1981 Israel bombed nuclear objects of Iraq and in 2007 of Syria.

Speaking about Iran, it obviously took into account the dismal experience of its regional neighbors and allocated nuclear objects all over the country. In any case, American experts have the common opinion that it will be impossible to eliminate all of them at one stroke. The western press has been periodically publishing information about an alleged plan of attack of Iran by the USA and Israel. At the end of 2007, the British Sunday Telegraph informed that they knew the plan of coordinated bombing of Iranian nuclear objects by planes and submarines. However the threat of use of combatant forces was so obvious bluffing that it did not have the due effect on Teheran. On January 12 this year one of the leading nuclear physicist Masud Aly Mohammadi was killed in Teheran. Iranian governors announced that the USA and Israel were involved in his death. Even though the President of Iran Mahmud Ahmadinejad made a statement that hundreds of new scientists would replace the deceased physicist, a nuclear scientist is not a guardian of Islamic revolution; one cannot make a scientist by order.

At the end of December last year some western publications referred to “Associated Press” agency in the information about preparation for a deal between Kazakhstan and Iran regarding sales of uranic ore. The information agency itself referred to an anonymous source at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Why does the information about the deal look reliable? Because Iran is extremely interested in the reduced-enrichment uranium, of course if it is intended to continue nuclear weapons development project. At the end of last year, negotiations with participation of Iran , USA, Russia, and France resulted in an agreement that Iran would transfer 75% of its reduced-enrichment uranium (which is good for nuclear reactors but not for research purpose) to Russia. It will be enriched to the required level and then transported to France where the fuel for a research reactor will be produced (which is used to produce isotopes for cancer treatment). In such case Iran would be denied the possibility to enrich uranium and use it for military purpose.

To all appearances information about the uranium deal was a preventive action aimed at prevention of any attempts to implement the deal. It was addressed to Iran, the country which needs additional reduced-enrichment uranium. But was it a warning signal addressed also to Kazakhstan? Of course, it was. First because by results of last year our country became the largest producer of uranium in the world. Plus Iran is practically our neighbor. Therefore, our uranium should be very attractive for Iran (and if it were not for sanctions, the most accessible).

Second, our position regarding the Iranian nuclear program in the opinion of Washington must look somewhat questionable. On October 16, 2007 the Caspian states one of which was Kazakhstan signed a declaration in Teheran which among other things confirmed “the integral right of all countries members of the Non-proliferation Treaty to develop, research, produce, and use nuclear energy for peaceful goals without discrimination within the framework of this treaty and IAEA mechanism”. It was not a challenge to the UN Security Council requiring termination of uranium enrichment but it was a quotation of Article 6 of the Non-proliferation Treaty. Eventually, a history of sale of Kazakhstan fighters to North Korea can be remembered. This deal was made secretly from Kazakhstan allies and partners and from Kazakhstan government and its security service (at least this was an official position of Astana). Therefore, western newspapers reported about sale of uranium making hints on some “hawks” and supporters of the tough course of Kazakhstan government.

On January 12, the parliament Committee of International Affairs, Defense, and Security heard the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Aset Magaurov. On January 14, Kairat Umarov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke before members of the similar committee of the parliament senate. Both of them refuted information about the planned sale of uranium ore to Iran as not true. Neither MFA nor MEMR sell uranium. Therefore their statements mainly read that neither diplomats nor power engineering specialists do not have information about the deal.

Kairat Umarov explained that Kazakhstan used diplomatic channels to address to IAEA at the end of December last year and made a statement that it did not sign or have any intentions to sign contracts with Iran. IAEA in its turn informed that it does not have a report which Associated Press referred to.

It has been long time that IAEA is not capable to control development of nuclear energy in all countries therefore it has to rely on official representations of governments. On the other hand the international agency cannot provide evidence or refute information about nuclear projects, if there is no proper inspection. As Kairat Umarov said, Kazakhstan MFA asked for public assessment of publications but IAEA responded that “…it cannot refute every unchecked information published in mass media”. Publication of unchecked information is not considered offense in the West as well as disclosure of state secrets and sources of information.

What is the probability of attempt to undermine the image of Kazakhstan as a reliable partner and remove it from the uranium market? It does not seem that such effect was planned since many countries are interested in our uranium. It is also inappropriate to speak about the image in the situation when the logic of statements, intentions, and actions is based on mutual distrust and suspicion. We speak about poker rather than a chess game.