New York Times: As it sought support for international sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration gave Moscow two concessions: lifting American sanctions against the Russian military complex and agreeing not to ban the sale of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Tehran.
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — As it sought support for international sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration gave Moscow two concessions: lifting American sanctions against the Russian military complex and agreeing not to ban the sale of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Tehran.
The administration dropped sanctions on Friday against the Russian state arms export agency and three other Russian entities previously found to have transferred sensitive technology or weapons to Iran. The move came just three days after the United States and Russia agreed on a package of United Nations sanctions against Iran.
Russian and American officials also said Friday that while the United Nations resolution would ban many weapons sales to Iran, it would not prohibit Moscow from completing the sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, a contract that Russia has suspended but not canceled. The sophisticated defensive system could help Iran shoot down American or Israeli warplanes should either try to bomb its nuclear facilities.
Russia has invented a series of reasons to delay delivery of the systems, under strong American pressure. A senior American official said Friday that other provisions of the sanctions, urging countries to exercise caution in what they deliver to Iran, would give Washington the ability to continue to urge Russia never to deliver the systems. Iran, in frustration, announced recently that it was developing a similar system that would be domestically manufactured, but outside experts said that would take years.
The concessions are the latest moves in President Obama’s effort to establish a fresh partnership with Russia after years of mutual suspicion. Last month Mr. Obama signed a new arms control treaty with Russia, and this month he revived a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement that had been shelved after Russia’s war with Georgia. Mr. Obama’s decision last year to restructure a European missile defense system was also seen by critics as a gesture to Moscow, although the president denied that.
The latest moves generated a fresh barrage of criticism from lawmakers and national security experts who said the administration was giving away too much and getting too little in return. Just this week, a bipartisan team in the House opened a legislative campaign to block the administration’s decision to bring back the civilian nuclear agreement.
Administration officials said the moves were reasonable gestures of confidence as ties improved. The decision to lift sanctions against the Russian companies was not a direct trade-off for support at the United Nations, they said, but a reflection of the increasing trust that allowed both developments. And they added that Russia had earned that trust in part by putting the S-300 sale on hold.
“What we’ve seen is a shift in Russian attitudes toward military support for Iran, and emblematic of that is the restraint with respect to delivering S-300s,” said Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman. “This was not a quid pro quo, but the fact that Russia has improved its performance with respect to Iran has given us the confidence to take these steps.”
Another senior official, who is involved in the discussions but not authorized to be identified, said the administration would have liked to have banned the S-300 sale but believed it had an understanding with Russia not to proceed with it. As for the sanctions lifted on the Russian companies, he said that some of them had lapsed anyway and that they were not much to give up compared with the importance of the United Nations resolution.
“We got a major instrument to help advance what we’re trying to do vis-à-vis Iran,” the official said. “Compared to what we gave up, I think we’re in a pretty good place, and we’re certainly better off than where we were in January 2009.”
But there was bipartisan criticism of the moves. David J. Kramer, who oversaw Russia policy in President George W. Bush’s State Department, said the concessions were “premature and unwarranted” without a firm commitment not to transfer the S-300s. “A Russia transfer of those missiles would be much more significant in a negative way than a Russian vote for a watered-down resolution,” he said. “Let’s not forget that Russia supported three previous resolutions and didn’t get ‘rewarded’ for those votes.”
John R. Bolton, who was acting ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Bush, said Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, got the upper hand on the Obama team. “He sensed desperation in the Obama administration on this Iran resolution, and probably extracted all that the traffic would bear,” he said. “The only remaining question is what else he got that we don’t yet know about.”
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and co-chairman of the Nuclear Security Caucus, said that the overall trend in Russian-American relations was good but that he was not sure Moscow agreed to enough teeth in the United Nations resolution to justify the concessions.
“It’s clear Russia is extracting a huge price for its cooperation at the U.N. Security Council on the Iran sanctions,” he said in an interview. On the S-300s, he said, “It’s hard to understand why they would insist on that if they weren’t intending to deliver.”
Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced a measure to reject the civilian nuclear cooperation deal on Thursday. “I believe Russia is continuing to assist Iran’s nuclear program,” he said, citing the civilian nuclear plant at Bushehr built by Russia and set to open this year. “Russia has sold Iran advanced conventional weapons and air defense systems.”
But administration officials said there was no evidence of current arms or technology transfers involving the companies freed of sanctions on Friday. Rosoboronexport, the state arms export corporation, was sanctioned in 2008 for arms sales to Iran, while the Dmitry Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology, the Moscow Aviation Institute and the Tula Instrument Design Bureau were all originally sanctioned in 1999.
Earlier this year the administration lifted sanctions on two other Russian entities, Glavkosmos and the Baltic State Technical University, both sanctioned in 1998 for helping Iran’s missile and weapons programs.