U.S. Wants Russia to Stop Iran Arms Sales
Anne Gearan, The Guardian:
The United States pressed Russia on Friday to halt missile sales to Iran amid international efforts to defuse a standoff with Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
The U.S. wants other countries that are concerned about Iran's nuclear intentions to use their influence, be it cutoffs of trade ties or, in Russia's case, cancellation of a planned sale of Tor-M1 air defense missile systems.
``We think it's time for countries to use their leverage individually, and we think it's time for countries to band together collectively to make the same effort,'' said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. READ MORE
The United States and its allies claim Tehran is seeking a bomb under cover of a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program; Iran denies it.
Burns' call for individual nations to do what they can to isolate Iran sets up an alternate way to apply pressure to the clerical regime outside the U.N. Security Council's current review of the Iranian nuclear program.
The United States pushed for more than two years to bring Iran's case before the powerful U.N. body for possible economic and political sanctions. U.S. officials have said that is the best way to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear know-how that could be used for a bomb.
The council is now divided, however, over whether to apply sanctions to the rich oil exporter.
Burns left Moscow after two days of meetings this week with an agreement that something must be done to stop Iran, but no public movement from Iran's commercial partners Russia and China toward supporting sanctions.
U.S. officials denied that asking countries to individually apply their own forms of sanctions shows lack of confidence in the Security Council process or undermines it.
``We're dedicating ourselves to the Security Council process, and you'll see the United States be as actively engaged as anybody,'' Burns said.
``But if the Security Council cannot act over a reasonable period of time, then there will be an opportunity for groups of countries to organize themselves together for the purpose of isolating the Iranians diplomatically and economically.''
Russia dug in its heels Friday, saying there is not yet proof that Iran is pursuing a bomb and that the nuclear crisis should be resolved by the less powerful U.N. nuclear watchdog agency instead of the Security Council.
``There is no such issue (of sanctions) for us,'' Nikolai Spassky, deputy head of the Kremlin Security Council was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency. ``We are not discussing it.''
Russia holds veto power as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
``Those that might prevent the Security Council from acting effectively need to understand that the international community has to find a way - and will find a way - to express our displeasure with the Iranians,'' Burns said.
There should be no export of so-called dual-use technology to Iran, Burns said, a reference to hardware or computer equipment that Iran might legally buy abroad but that could be used to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Beyond those safeguards, ``We think it's very important that countries like Russia, for instance, freeze any arms sales planned for Iran,'' Burns said.
Russia announced plans last year to sell 29 sophisticated Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran under a contract worth about $700 million.
``We hope and we trust that that deal will not go forward because this is not time for business as usual with the Iranian government,'' Burns said.
Russian officials had said earlier Friday that the deal is still on, despite U.S. pressure.
``We'll continue to work at it,'' Burns said. ``We felt it was important to press the issue.''