Russia Rejects Automatic Sanctions Return If Iran Cheats on Deal

The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating.

Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t elaborate.

While the Obama administration maintains that Russia agreed “in principle” to the need for a sanctions “snapback” mechanism if Iran fails to comply with the agreement now being negotiated in final form, the Russian government has offered no corroboration.

Instead, President Vladimir Putin on April 13 lifted a ban on exporting missile defense systems to Tehran, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said lifting all the sanctions against Iran is good business for Russia.

That underscores a long-standing Russian aversion to sanctions, heightened as Russia now endures punitive measures imposed by the U.S. and the European Union over the crisis in Ukraine. Putin isn’t going to want to let the U.S. and European allies get their way on Iran without Russia’s agreement, said Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s highly doubtful to me that Russia could agree to automatic renewal of sanctions against Iran if there are violations,” Barmin said in an e-mail. “Russia may agree to discuss the issue at the UN Security Council, but not to quickly reapply economic measures.”

‘Moscow’s Lever’

“I would consider it as Moscow’s lever against Washington,” Barmin said.

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the two countries’ positions on the Iranian nuclear program are “closely aligned,” no substantive agreements were reached in the top American diplomat’s meeting with Putin on Tuesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi -- their first in two years.

In a press conference after Kerry’s meeting with the Russian leader, Lavrov also made it clear that bilateral cooperation will be limited to the extent that such close interaction meets “mutual respective interest and positions of each other.”

Germany and the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- reached a political framework accord with Iran last month in Switzerland to serve as a basis for negotiations that will continue in advance of a June 30 deadline.

New Resolution

They agreed to enshrine the terms of any final deal in a new UN Security Council resolution that would outline the procedures for lifting sanctions -- and for restoring them if Iran fails to honor its commitments in the agreement.

A series of Security Council resolutions adopted from 2006 to 2010 ban all Iranian enrichment and reprocessing activities and financial dealings with the Iranian government and institutions that may contribute to the Islamic Republic’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran says its efforts are solely for civilian purposes.

The UN measures also forbid the transfer of nuclear and ballistic missile technology, freeze assets of companies and individuals involved in the country’s uranium enrichment program, impose an arms embargo and limit Iranian banks’ overseas operations.

Iranian Demands

Iran is demanding that all UN sanctions and resolutions, which declare the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program illegitimate and a threat to international peace and stability, be abrogated.

An agreement by the June 30 deadline would be followed “within a few days” by a new UN Security Council resolution that “will terminate all previous resolutions, including all sanctions and will set in place the termination of EU sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a speech at New York University on April 29.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power agrees that the sanctions resolutions would be lifted, but only to be replaced with “a mechanism for ensuring that many of the sanctions remain.”

The arms embargo on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles “should remain for some time,” while creating “some kind of procurement channel” to vet any “dual-use” acquisitions or purchases Iran wants to make, Power said in April 15 congressional testimony.

“We are going to secure an arrangement to allow for snapback in New York that doesn’t require Russian or Chinese support,” she said.

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