Visiting Iran, Putin Has Warning For U.S.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin wave to the media, as they stand for a group photo during the Caspian Sea leaders summit in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007.
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
Russian leader Vladimir Putin met his Iranian counterpart Tuesday and implicitly warned the U.S. not to use a former Soviet republic to stage an attack on Iran. He also said nations shouldn't pursue oil pipeline projects in the area if they weren't backed by regional powers.

And while Putin delivered smiling support to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he kept the president's nuclear ambitions at arm's length, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

At a summit of the five nations that border the inland Caspian Sea, Putin said none of the nations' territory should be used by any outside countries for use of military force against any nation in the region. It was a clear reference to long-standing rumors that the U.S. was planning to use Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, as a staging ground for any possible military action against Iran.

"We are saying that no Caspian nation should offer its territory to third powers for use of force or military aggression against any Caspian state," Putin said.

Ahmadinejad also underlined the need to keep outsiders away from the Caspian.

"All Caspian nations agree on the main issue - that all aspects related to this sea must be settled exclusively by littoral nations," he said. "The Caspian Sea is an inland sea and it only belongs to the Caspian states, therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here."

Putin, whose trip to Tehran is the first by a Kremlin leader since World War II, warned that energy pipeline projects crossing the Caspian could only be implemented if all five nations that border the Caspian support them.

Putin did not name any specific country, but his statement underlined Moscow's strong opposition to U.S.-backed efforts to build pipelines to deliver hydrocarbons to the West bypassing Russia.

"Projects that may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations," he said.

Other nations bordering the Caspian Sea and in attendance at the summit are: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

CBS News producer Sia Zand in Tehran reports the low key summit was lent credence in the world of global politics by Putin's presence.

The Russian president's most internationally significant statement, reports Zand was his implicit, repeated support for Iran's nuclear program. Answering a question from a Russian journalist, Putin stressed the right of all countries in the region to pursue peaceful atomic programs under the guidelines set by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Putin, however, refused to set a date Tuesday for the start-up of Iran's first nuclear power plant, but stressed that Moscow would not back out of its commitment to complete the project.

After talks with Ahmadinejad, Putin said revisions to the $1 billion contract to build the plant in the Iranian port of Bushehr are necessary to clarify certain legal aspects and financial obligations by each side.

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
"I only gave promises to my Mom when I was a small boy," Putin told Iranian reporters, when asked whether he could promise that the plant Russia is building would be launched before his term ends next May.

At the same time, he said, "We are not going to renounce our obligations."

The plant is leverage Moscow can use against Iran's renegade efforts to enrich uranium, potentially on the way to developing nuclear weapons, reports Roth.

Putin's careful stance suggested that Russia is seeking to preserve solid ties with Iran without angering the West. A clear pledge by Putin to quickly finish the plant would embolden Iran and could complicate international talks on the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States alone cannot force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

"Our allies must work together on robust, far-reaching and strongly enforced economic sanctions. We must exert pressure in the diplomatic and political arenas as well. And, as President Bush has said, with this regime we must also keep all options on the table," Gates said.

Last week, Putin bluntly spelled out his disagreements with Washington, saying that he saw no "objective data" to prove Western claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Though Russia has shielded Iran from harsher sanctions in the U.N. Security Council, its relations with Tehran have been hurt by disputes over the $1 billion deal to build the nuclear plant.