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Much Ado Over Sanction Vote

by PETER PIATETSKY in Washington, D.C.

09 Jul 2010 04:316 Comments

Tehran vents, Moscow pretends not to notice.

putin_of_russia_with_ahmadinejad_of_iran_in_tehran.jpgIn the month since Russia voted in the U.N. Security Council for sanctions against Iran, Iranian officials have been struggling to maintain good relations with their once steadfast ally. Iran's president, foreign minister, minister of defense, intelligence apparatus, and numerous members of the Majles (parliament) have voiced conflicting opinions, issued statements later retracted or denied, and chastised one another for speaking out. Tehran's failure to present a unified response does not so much reflect internal foreign policy divisions as it does frustration with Moscow and its own inability to change the relationship's dynamics.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had already entered the fray on May 26 during a speech in Kerman in which he bluntly criticized his Russian counterpart and told him to be "very cautious" when dealing with Iran. Ahmadinejad earned an immediate rebuke from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which accused him of "political demagoguery" and "extremism." Even before sanctions passed on June 9, Majles deputies were deciding against whom to retaliate and Russia was high on their list.

Representative Vali Esmaili told Jam-e-Jam Online that he and other deputies were going to punish Russia and China for their vote by preparing "a proposal that will be handed over to the Majles Presidium very soon to discuss downgrading relations with these two countries." Esmaili also told Khabar Online on June 13 that "more than 25 lawmakers have signed a declaration which calls for a revision of the Islamic Republic's relations with both countries." Representative Parviz Sarvari opined to Jam-e-Jam Online that Iran should "be more cautious in its relations with these two countries."

Representative Hossein Ebrahimi, a deputy chair of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, took the opposite tack on June 14, telling Mehr News Agency that Russia and China had "the best of intentions" when they approved the latest sanctions, citing what he thought to be the position of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. He said that the ministry believed the "moves were in fact sympathetic" and that "there should be no change" in Iran's relations with the two countries. However, on June 26, Ebrahimi told the Iranian Labor News Agency that "a change in Iran's relations with these countries is definite" and that in a meeting with his committee, "representatives of the Intelligence Ministry presented a coherent analysis of the need to downgrade ties" with Russia and China.

According to another committee member, Mohammad Mehdi Shahriyari, the problem wasn't so much Russia's vote as the public airing of dirty laundry. In an interview published by Mardom Salari Online on June 21, he called the public criticism of Russia in Iran "incoherent," chided officials for acting "carelessly," and said that "costly remarks should have been avoided, because this matter led [the Russians] to react harshly." He urged restraint instead of venting, saying that "we could have expressed our criticism in private."

Trying to rein in his committee and get the Majles foreign policy debate back under his control, Boroujerdi declared on three separate occasions in June that relations with Russia and China would not be downgraded, called Ebrahimi's comments misunderstood, and claimed that "the issue of reducing ties with Russia has not been discussed at a [Majles] national security committee meeting at all." Boroujerdi even complimented Russia and China in an Islamic Republic News Agency interview on July 3, saying that their role "in decreasing the harshness of that [sanction] resolution should not be ignored."

The confusion in the Majles has been mirrored at the Foreign Ministry, whose officials were forced to deny Ebrahimi's comments, saying that "Russia and China's anti-Iran vote in the U.N. Security Council [was] a mild approach." On June 16, Iran's ambassador to Russia said in an interview with Russian Oil that "although at the current time we are living through what is not the best period in our relations, we have a promising future." On June 29, state-run Press TV reported that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki affirmed the ambassador's optimistic tone, calling Russo-Iranian ties positive in a press conference, though the ministry's official transcript contained no such statement. Rather, according to the transcript, Mottaki urged Russia to follow "practical policies." He seemed to imply that disagreeing with Iran is bad for Russia, bringing up Afghanistan, concerning which he said, "We in the past had differences of opinion."

Adding to Iranian frustration is the languishing reactor at Busher, on which Russia has pushed back deadlines for over a decade -- twice just this year. Still worse is the similarly long running saga of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system, which Iran paid for in 2005, but Russia has yet to deliver. On June 10, the day after sanctions passed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they would not affect the S-300 delivery because the "resolution creates restrictions on cooperation with Iran concerning offensive weapons, but defensive weapons don't fall under this restriction." By the following day, the weapons had been reclassified as "offensive" and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared the deal "frozen." Over the next few weeks, furious Majles deputies first claimed that the S-300 was not covered by sanctions, then demanded that it be delivered because it was paid for, then threatened that nondelivery would hurt relations, then said Iran did not need the S-300 because more advanced systems existed and Iran would build its own, before finally returning to demands that Russia deliver or else. The debacle forced Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi to comment on multiple occasions that the S-300 "has nothing to do with UN resolutions" and that if Russia fails to deliver the missiles, it will have to pay financial damages.

Talking to Tehran Bureau, Woodrow Wilson Center Iran expert Michael Adler said that while the criticism coming from Tehran shows significant frustration with Moscow, Moscow is also frustrated with Tehran, especially after it rejected a fuel swap deal that the Russians brokered last fall. Adler says that this, along with the secret enrichment site near Qom, which Iran concealed from Russia, left the Russians "surprised and embarrassed." Iran is now faced with an "annoyed" Russia, says Adler, one manifestation of which is Russia's approach to the S-300: "No matter what the Russians say, the sanctions don't apply to the S-300, but the Russians want it to, so it does." This attitude further stokes Iranian anger, but Adler says that Tehran's anti-Russia rhetoric has nothing behind it: "People say where there's smoke there's fire. Well, if you look at the diplomatic maneuvering in this crisis, you could say that where there's smoke there's no fire, because things don't change."

That is exactly how Russian diplomats are treating this low point in relations, playing down the sanctions and feigning ignorance of the animosity. "Does Moscow care?" asks Adler. "Sure they do. Do they go home and cry? I don't think so. Do they care to the point that they watch and analyze it and deploy resources to remain up to date in Iran? Absolutely." When asked about anti-Russian motions in the Majles, the Russian ambassador in Tehran, Alexander Sadonikov, dismissed both the anger and the reasons behind it, telling Novy Vzglyad on July 2 that "in any parliament in any country many different and often contradictory opinions" are expressed. Ignoring the preponderance of negative commentary from ministers and Majles deputies, Sadovnikov instead trumpeted Boroujerdi's statement that the Majles was not going to recommend a revision in Russo-Iranian ties.

For now, Russia can punish Iran while staying in its good graces. Those Iranian politicians noting that more advanced weapons systems than the S-300 are on the market and that the Russians are stalling on the Busher nuclear reactor are correct, but no other nation is even willing to discuss sharing such technology with Iran. This realization is sinking in with the leadership, which, after allowing anti-Russian sentiment to build for a month, finally seems to be toning down the rhetoric.

On July 2, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, perhaps the most influential Iranian official since Ahmadinejad to opine on the issue, told Al Rai that although there is a need for "extensive discussions with the Russians," it was not likely that "tactical events might lead to major changes" in the relationship.

The Russo-Iranian alliance was never based on shared ideology or even economic ties, but on geopolitics and pragmatism. While this is a strained moment in relations, it is not a collapse. The two countries continue to need each other. As Adler says, the "bottom line is that the sanctions come and go, and the Russian-Iranian relationship continues."

Archive photos.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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interesting article.

the fact is that Iran has little options right now. The best Iran can do is to continue on its technologic development. But the immediate issue to solve is to unite the nation, first and foremost. This latter issue is where Ahmadinejad has failed at miserably. Should Iran be able to unify by coming in terms with last years elections, then all issues will change. The way to come in terms with it is provide meaningful election reforms, as was being proposed by Larijani and Rezaei. Those proposals seem to be going to the way side. As it stands now, Iran will likely come together once Ahmadinejad has left office in 2 1/2 years.
Russia has always been an unreliable ally. All Iranians know this and talk about it in private. There is no surprise Bushehr is not finished, or that the S300 were not delivered. But this is not even particular to Iran. Russia back stabbed Libya in the 1980's by pulling its ships from Libyan ports shortly before Reagon bombed that nation. Russians did not defend their close ally Iraq in 1991. In fact, Russia has never helped any nation it considers its ally.
For Iran, this sense of vunerability, can only mean one thing: They need to build the ultimate weapon.

Pouya / July 10, 2010 9:48 AM

Iran has quite a few options. The Iranian government could do the most sensible thing. Cooperate with the U.N. allowing inspections and accepting enriched materials from Russia would certainly have not disrupted any small progress on production of "the ultimate weapon". It would prevent sanctions. Then the Iranian government has the option to not produce any nuclear material at all. The "ultimate weapon" is not much of a weapon. Just as the S300 is not much of a weapon.

What would be the benefit to Iran of building "the ultimate weapon"? No one would attack them if they had "the ultimate weapon"? Not likely. As we have already seen, just the opposite is much more likely. If the Iranian government were to concentrate on developing defensive weapons, such as anti-aircraft weapons, missle defense systems, etc. the Iranian people would be much better served.

The Islamic republic is comitted to the expansion of it's power, and Islamists world wide. The only way such people "unite" a nation is to kill, torture, bribe others to their will. They will not accept any election reform, any more than they will accept any U.N. resolution.

Btw, Russia didn't back-stab Libya. That was the Soviet Union. Which included many "united" nations from the Ukraine to Georgia to Uzbekistan.

muhammad billy bob / July 13, 2010 12:36 AM

I don't remember a war with a nuclear nation, not even the N. Koreans are worried.

Iran does not have the luxury of developing advanced defensive weapons, since Iran is still twenty years behind reaching such level.

Additionally, there is much debate about whether Iran has actually not been cooperative with the IAEA. As Iran is now the most monitored nuclear nation. Inspectors have never been denied access to Iran except to Iran's weapon making facilities which is illegal. Those illegal requests have been denied, and they have been used by some members of the UN, not even the IAEA itself, as some sort of evidence.

To date there is only one nation that have violated NPT agreements by illegally enriching Uranium to 76% and was caught red handed: that nation is South Korea. And it got no repremend.

Brazil does not allow inspectors into its enrichment facilities, and there are no cameras installed in them. The reason is that NPT only requires to know what goes in and what comes out. Iran does not have an obligation to allow even cameras in, as Brazil does not.

On a separte issue, Russia also watched Yugoslavia go to hell, and did nothing. Defending Russia just to condemn Iran by itself is self-evident biased opinion. "say anything" attitude.

Pouya / July 13, 2010 11:44 AM

N. korea is plenty "worried". They have an entire nation devoted to militarization. Argentina went to war with nuclear powered U.K.
Vietnamese went to war with nuclear powered France and U.S., etc. etc. there are many instances of countries engaging nuclear powered countries.

What would be the harm of allowing the U.N. access to Iran's weapons making facilities? It's not anything they haven't seen in most countries. There are no secrets they'd get. Why doesn't Iran allow cameras, give free tours, whatever they desire? Legal or not? It's no skin off their nose. Such things will not stop the production of "the ultimate weapon". What such things would do is keep sanctions away. If Iran wanted to, they could easily violate the NPT with no recupurcusions. All they have to do is allow access to their weapons programs.

The problem the Iranian government has with this is that they are worried the world would see how pathetic it's weapons developement is. But the world already know this. Iran is still twenty years to reaching any weapons level that is comparable to other nations. All they have is bluster and threats against others. And they are terribly afraid those others will see this.

What would you have wanted Russia to do in the former Yugoslavia? Yugoslavia was a creation of the treaty of Versailles, flawed in every way. Several nations held together under one government by force and force alone. Should the Russian government have tried to force that union? They are having enough problems forcing their own union.

muhammad billy bob / July 13, 2010 7:40 PM

Pouya, I think you are on the right track.

From a historical perspective empires are not interested in just and fair coexistence - they look for easy prey! The only way to defend against empires is to make sure that you are not the "easy" prey and wait out their eventual collapse.

And, you seem to know very well (despite some of the cognitively dissonant statements on the MSM and from some people commenting on this site) that the Iran case has very little (and I do mean next to nothing) with enrichment. Enrichment is merely a pretext for weakening the target and creating an easy prey.

If you have the time, then Gore Vidal's book
"Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia" is a great read.

Jay / July 13, 2010 8:45 PM


Do you see the Iranian government as desiring an empire? They have many times made statements as such. The Iranian government has stated many, many times, every week at their friday prayer/political meetings, that they want to export their Islamic law to other nations by force.

What does pursuing a nuclear weapon mean to the Iranian people? It certainly doesn't mean a better life. At the very least, it means more control over their lives in increased taxes. At the most practical, it means other nations, (those that the Iranian government has been saying they will eliminate), will attack Iran with the intention to not allow the Iranian government the ability to kill their citizens. It means other nations will not allow it's citizens to trade with the people of Iran. Not a good thing for the people of Iran who can not produce many needed products in Iran.

Gore Vidal??? You've gotta be kidding. His pro communist beliefs have been shown to be what they are. His undying support for the former soviet union has been proven to be pure nonsense. The people of the former soviet union didn't really like being oppressed as much as Vidal thought, looking in from the outside buying the soviet propaganda.

muhammad billy bob / July 14, 2010 7:01 PM