Moscow’s bid to rally op­po­si­tion raises doubts about tougher penal­ties for Tehran, and U.S.-Krem­lin ties.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Paul Richter re­port­ing from the united na­tions

Even as the White House praised Rus­sia for de­clin­ing to sell an­ti­air­craft mis­siles to Iran in vi­o­la­tion of U.N. sanc­tions, Rus­sian di­plo­mats were qui­etly re­cruit­ing other coun­tries this week to un­der­cut tougher penal­ties im­posed on the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic.

Rus­sia sup­ported weak United Na­tions sanc­tions ap­proved in June to pres­sure Iran over its nu­clear pro­gram. But it has strongly ob­jected to tougher sanc­tions added in­di­vid­u­ally by the United States, the Euro­pean Union and four other coun­tries. It fears those sanc­tions may end up hurt­ing Rus­sian com­pa­nies that do busi­ness in Iran.

It is un­clear whether Rus­sia’s ef­fort at the U.N. this week to rally ma­jor de­vel­op­ing coun­tries will bear fruit. But Moscow’s push­back sends a trou­bling sig­nal about the prospects for more rig­or­ous ef­forts to force Iran to bend. And it raises ques­tions about whether the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has much to show for its highly pub­li­cized ef­fort to “re­set” re­la­tions with the Krem­lin.

Al­though Tehran main­tains it is in­ter­ested only in gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity, the U.S. and many other coun­tries be­lieve Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram is aimed at try­ing to build a bomb. Frus­trated at the rel­a­tively weak sanc­tions ap­proved in June that tar­geted arms sales, Iran’s nu­clear sec­tor and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies im­posed their own sanc-


tions aimed at crimp­ing trade and cut­ting off for­eign in­vest­ment in Iran’s vi­tal en­ergy sec­tor.

As di­plo­mats from around the world con­vened in New York for the an­nual United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly meet­ings this week, Rus­sian di­plo­mats tried to en­list like-minded coun­tries to make a stand against those uni­lat­eral sanc­tions.

In a Wed­nes­day meet­ing with di­plo­mats from China, In­dia and Brazil, the Rus­sians raised the prospect of a U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly res­o­lu­tion that, though not bind­ing, would send a loud sig­nal from coun­tries ea­ger to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties in Iran’s en­ergy sec­tor — and prob­a­bly weaken the abil­ity of the U.S. and its al­lies to get other na­tions to go along with their tougher ap­proach.

All four coun­tries op­pose the uni­lat­eral sanc­tions. An­other im­por­tant op­po­nent is Turkey, which has sig­naled a keen in­ter­est in ad­di­tional en­ergy deals with its neigh­bor.

Among mem­bers of this group, “there is a broad agree­ment on prin­ci­ples,” said a diplo­mat from a nation in­volved in the talks. The diplo­mat, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the group was not yet ready to of­fer a spe­cific res­o­lu­tion.

Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Rus­sian for­eign min­is­ter, said it was un­fair for the U.S. and Western al­lies to uni­lat­er­ally im­pose tough mea­sures af­ter they had failed to per­suade other U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers to ac­cept them.

“They adopt pre­cisely the same el­e­ments that we were un­able to agree with at the United Na­tions,” Ryabkov said in an in­ter­view. “This is re­ally a ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal ethics, po­lit­i­cal moral­ity.”

Rus­sia, which has just com­pleted con­struc­tion of Iran’s first nu­clear power plant in Bushehr, sees large busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic. But Moscow fears that the U.S. sanc­tions could pre­vent Rus­sian com­pa­nies from do­ing busi­ness with the United States if they also are do­ing busi­ness in Iran. An­other con­cern is that multi­na­tional com­pa­nies based in other coun­tries might shy away from deal­ings with their Rus­sian coun­ter­parts for fear that they too will face pun­ish­ment from Washington.

Since the U.N. res­o­lu­tion was adopted, Turkey and China have sold huge car­goes of gaso­line to Iran, en­ergy traders say. Rus­sia signed a long-term part­ner­ship with Iran’s En­ergy Min­istry, and China has in­creased its com­mit­ment to in­vest in the en­ergy sec­tor to $40 bil­lion.

Al­though those ac­tions do not vi­o­late the U.N. sanc­tions, they un­der­score a vul­ner­a­bil­ity for the U.S. and its al­lies. If some coun­tries con­tinue to do busi­ness with the Ira­nian en­ergy sec­tor, Western com­pa­nies may pres­sure their gov­ern­ments to drop the sanc­tions, which put them at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage.

Se­nior U.S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cials said they were aware that some coun­tries were talk­ing about re­sist­ing the sanc­tions, but down­played the threat.

Di­plo­mats say that one po­ten­tial way out of the dis­pute is to open dis­cus­sions on a plan to limit how far in­di­vid­ual na­tions can go in im­pos­ing their own penal­ties on a coun­try that al­ready is un­der U.N. sanc­tions.

Rus­sia’s ma­neu­ver also raises ques­tions about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claims of im­proved ties with Moscow, sug­gest­ing that the re­la­tion­ship re­mains more com­pli­cated than the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ready to ac­knowl­edge.

On Wed­nes­day, the White House praised Rus­sia for de­cid­ing against a sale of an­ti­air­craft mis­siles to Iran, say­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev had “shown lead­er­ship in hold­ing Iran ac­count­able for its ac­tions, from start to fin­ish.”

Mark Dubowitz of the Foun­da­tion for the De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, a re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vo­cates tough sanc­tions, said Rus­sia has been play­ing a “dou­ble game, voic­ing a kind of tepid sup­port” for the Western ef­fort while con­tin­u­ing to build eco­nomic ties with Tehran.

He said that a U.N. res­o­lu­tion from this group would be a “shot across the bow” of the U.S. and its al­lies.

Dubowitz said that Rus­sia and China have done lit­tle to en­force the sanc­tions, and that ma­jor Rus­sian and Chi­nese com­pa­nies con­tinue to pur­sue busi­ness with Iran as Western firms pull back to avoid be­ing pun­ished.

China has been “even more ac­tive in the en­ergy sec­tor, scoop­ing up deals left by oth­ers,” he said.

Dubowitz said that Robert Einhorn, the se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for or­ga­niz­ing in­ter­na­tional en­force­ment of the sanc­tions, has yet to meet top Chi­nese of­fi­cials al­though he sought a meet­ing more than a month ago.

U.S. of­fi­cials say it is a sched­ul­ing prob­lem; Dubowitz said it re­flects Chi­nese re­sis­tance.

Paul Saun­ders, a Rus­sia spe­cial­ist at the Nixon Cen­ter in Washington, said Rus­sia’s ac­tions “make clear Rus­sian am­biva­lence, and sug­gest it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult, if it’s pos­si­ble at all, to get Rus­sia to do much on the sanc­tions.”

He said Rus­sian of­fi­cials had promised the Ira­ni­ans dur­ing the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ne­go­ti­a­tions lead­ing to im­po­si­tion of the sanc­tions that “we’ll take care of you.” But Moscow was put in an awk­ward po­si­tion when the U.S. and sev­eral al­lies added their own tougher sanc­tions within two months.

Saun­ders said an­other rea­son for the re­sis­tance of Rus­sian and Chi­nese of­fi­cials to the sanc­tions is that many se­nior of­fi­cials in those coun­tries have per­sonal fi­nan­cial ties to the big en­ergy com­pa­nies.

Ryabkov, the Rus­sian diplo­mat, said Moscow and its al­lies were ob­ject­ing not only to the sanc­tions, but also to the pat­tern of Western coun­tries try­ing to win mild sanc­tions at the U.N. to es­tab­lish the in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy of the ef­fort, only to fol­low up with much tougher uni­lat­eral pun­ish­ments.


Vik­tor Drachev

Rus­sia drew praise for not sell­ing Iran an air de­fense sys­tem such as the S-300, used in a joint ex­er­cise in Be­larus.

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