Turkey to mediate in Iran-U.S. talks / Cooperation with Iran Russia's trump in relations with the U.S. / One in 10 Russians regrets voting for President Medvedev / Russian government to cut salaries of state corporation managers
Turkey to mediate in Iran-U.S. talks
Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Qatar, leading natural gas producing countries, will today discuss the Nabucco project with Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the Tehran summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).
Turkey has also expressed its readiness to mediate in the Iran-U.S. talks.
Unwilling to remain a transit country for energy supplies to Europe, Turkey is aspiring to become an energy superpower, like Russia.
In January this year, the U.S. State Department gave serious consideration to the possibility of President Barack Obama visiting Moscow in early April. A source in the department said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might go to Russia in March to prepare for the president's visit, and that President Obama would go to Moscow on April 3-4, immediately after NATO's jubilee summit.
At the same time, Washington proposed that Moscow step up cooperation with it on the Iranian issue. That possibility was among the key elements of Obama's secret letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The letter suggested that Obama would drop plans to deploy a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons.
But Moscow did not reply immediately, and Washington opted for Turkey as an intermediary in its talks with Iran. This explains changes in the schedules of visits by top U.S. officials.
Turkey has become increasingly active as a mediator. It mediated in the Syria-Israel talks and last August offered its peacemaking services in the Caucasus, proposing a Caucasian security platform, an organization that would also incorporate Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Moscow eagerly supported the idea.
Until recently, the United States has been one of the most active lobbyists for Nabucco, a gas pipeline bypassing Russia and its gas fields. But it was firmly against involving Iran, whose authorities have been doing their best to join the project.
Turkey's success as an intermediary in the Iran-U.S. talks would change the situation dramatically, with Iran getting the money for gas supplies to Europe that it badly needs, and Turkey reinforcing its new status as an energy superpower alternative to Russia.
ECO is an intergovernmental organization of 10 Asian nations set up to discuss investment opportunities and ways to improve development and promote trade. The member states are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Their common objective is to establish a common market for goods and services, much like the European Union.
Cooperation with Iran Russia's trump in relations with the U.S.
Sources linked to the Russian leadership say the delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Iran, whose missile program worries the U.S. and Israel, may be suspended.
The gesture was taken ahead of a meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents in response to the U.S. administration's proposal to stop the deployment of a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow helps prevent Iran from developing long-range weapons.
According to the sources, these deliveries to Iran may be stopped for an indefinite period. The details of the contract, which was signed in 2005, remain confidential, but media have reported the planned delivery of five S-300PMU1 systems, or 40-60 launchers.
The contract was the main headache of former President George W. Bush and a major irritant for his successor, Barack Obama.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, scheduled for the middle of 2010, without normalization of relations with Iran, would be a catastrophe for Washington.
Radzhab Safarov, director of the Moscow-based Center of Modern Iranian Studies, said: "Iraq will be actually controlled by Iran, which will signify the failure of the United States' long-term efforts to become established in the region."
At the same time, analysts point out that the S-300 contract does not stipulate delivery deadlines, and that Moscow may suspend them to force the U.S. to make more concrete proposals.
"Duality in the issue of the [S-300] deliveries is a major trump card which Moscow may use any time, and so it would be unwise for it to make the decision now," Safarov said.
According to his information, the contract stipulates that S-300 is to be delivered to Iran by the deadline "of Russia's choice," and therefore Moscow's actions do not point to a radical review of its stance.
This means that the latest Moscow statements are "an indicator of the contract's uncertain status," said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
One in 10 Russians regrets voting for President Medvedev
A year into Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, one in 10 voters regrets their choice.
According to VTsIOM, a national public opinion center, about one-third of the disappointed voters cite their high confidence in former President Vladimir Putin as the reason for their choice - a predictable result, analysts say. A share of Medvedev's supporters in fact wanted to see Putin as their president whatever happens.
However, on the whole, Russians' confidence in their president is on the rise. While in 2006, only 56% said they had confidence in him, now their number is 73%.
Almost half of respondents cited intelligence as Medvedev's key personal advantage, and 39% pointed to his professionalism.
Few respondents said they saw any negative qualities in him: 9% said he was dissociated from the people and unable to understand their needs, 4% that he was passive, and 3%, irresolute and weak-hearted.
If the presidential elections were staged today, one in 10 of Medvedev's voters would have changed their decisions. They cite several reasons: 28% say Putin's successor has failed to get anything specific done, or to make good on his promises, while 9% are convinced that he has proved ineffective in the face of the economic crisis.
Political analyst Alexei Makarkin said voter dissatisfaction with Medvedev was unavoidable. "Some Russians voted for Medvedev in the hope that he won't stay long, that he'll go once they change the constitution, for example," he said.
People's regrets are also a result of their disappointment with having anyone other than Putin as their president, said Rostislav Turovsky, head of regional studies at the Political Technologies Center think tank. "Many still fail to accept the current president as an independent politician," he added.
Russian government to cut salaries of state corporation managers
The Russian Finance Ministry has proposed slashing the salaries of top managers of state corporations, who say this may create personnel problems.
The ministry has trouble in obtaining information on salaries in state corporations, a ministry official said. The Finance Ministry has data only for March 2008, and many state corporations have refused to honor its February 2009 request.
Currently, top managers of state corporations receive up to 1 million rubles ($28,210) a month, which is three to four times more than ministers, said another official at the Finance Ministry. "What is being considered is not to level the salaries, but to significantly reduce them," he said.
It would be reasonable to amend the laws on state corporations to stipulate a ceiling for top managers' salaries, to be approved by the president or the prime minister. The money saved would not be returned to the budget, but used for the said corporation's current operations, including investment.
A member of the Supervisory Board of Olympstroi, a state corporation in charge of building sports facilities for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, said the salaries of Olympstroi managers were comparable to the salaries of top managers at other state corporations.
A source with close ties in the corporation said the monthly salaries of Olympstroi vice presidents are 500,000-800,000 rubles ($14,100-$22,570), while section heads receive 300,000-400,000 rubles a month.
Top managers also receive additional payment for overtime (20% of the salary) and for access to information containing state secrets (10%), as well as monthly and quarterly bonuses (50%), say sources with close ties in the top management of Olympstroi and state nuclear power corporation Rosatom.
The Russian ministries are losing their best professionals to state corporations, says an official at a ministry. State corporations were set up to attract top professionals, argues an employee of a state corporation. If salaries there are slashed, these professionals will quit.
People readily accepted managerial jobs at state corporations, but it was much more difficult to hire heads of department, because $5,000-$10,000 a month is considerably less than what private firms offer, a consultant of a state corporation said.
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