A senior Russian diplomat, speaking on background, told the press yesterday that Russia would join any international “consensus” to impose additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear activities. This comment has gotten many journalists and pundits spun up about Russia’s “shifting” position on Iran sanctions.
At this point, Moscow does seem to be genuinely displeased with Iran’s reluctance to go along with the ElBaradei proposal to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor, in which Russia would play a key role. And sanctions limiting Iranian oil exports could serve some Russian interests. But Russia does not want to lend support to what it sees as an American agenda to sponsor more “color revolutions” in its neighborhood. As a result, Moscow will not support “crippling” sanctions that could affect the fundamental stability of Iran’s political order.
Moreover, any international “consensus” to expand sanctions against Iran would necessarily include China. And, today, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reaffirmed that China’s position on new sanctions has not changed: sanctions “are not the goal” of the IAEA Board of Governors resolution last week, and “we should properly resolve this issue through dialogue…All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”
Russia and, perhaps, even China might, in the end, join in a new sanctions resolution, just as they have supported three sanctions resolutions since 2006. But, as with these three previous resolutions, Russia and China will work to make sure that any new resolution does not fundamentally impede pursuit of their economic and strategic interests in Iran.
In the past, China tended to let Russia “take the lead” in opposing specific measures in draft resolutions prepared by the United States and its European partners. But China was always willing to draw lines, when necessary, against measures that would have damaged Chinese interests. And, now, perhaps Russia will be happy for China to “take the lead” in opposing sanctions that would target key sectors of the Iranian economy.
In any event, our bottom line judgment remains the same: the Obama Administration will not get the Security Council to endorse anything close to “crippling” sanctions against Iran.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett