Moscow defends Assad, seeks nuclear deal with Iran by freezing sanctions
Exclusive Report August 2, 2011, 7:36 AM (GMT+02:00)
As Moscow prepares to block strong UN Security Council condemnation of Syrian violence against protest, Russian diplomats Monday, Aug. 1, launched a quiet effort to start freezing sanctions imposed on Iran over its military nuclear program in return for Tehran satisfactorily answering of the International nuclear watchdog's "questions and concerns," debkafile's Moscow and Washington sources report.
The Obama administration, while not involved in the Russian initiative, has indicated through contacts between US and Russian officials that if Moscow persuades Iran to go this path and another effort to break the long impasse over its nuclear program, Washington will not interfere and agrees to await results.
Moscow's hands were therefore free to put its proposition to Tehran: Russia will block a strong UN Security Council resolution condemning its ally Syrian President Bashar Assad for his brutal crackdown on dissent, thereby shutting the door to approval of Libya-style outside military intervention. Tehran will reciprocate by cooperating with the Russian plan for solving the nuclear controversy along the lines proposed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-May: "…each time when Tehran satisfactorily answers the questions or concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it should be encouraged, including some sanctions should be frozen," he suggested.
Until now, Tehran has rejected this Russian overture.
Over the weekend, however, debkafile's Iranian sources disclose that Iranian leaders decided after a stormy session to change course. The Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave the order to inform Moscow that Iran is willing to discuss the Lavrov plan while fully reserving its objections. Moscow must also be ready to talk through Iran's counter-proposals.
Accepting Tehran's decision as the starting point for discussing the Lavrov plan, Moscow made two more public moves: An announcement in Moscow and Tehran that Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev would visit Tehran on Aug. 15, followed two days later by the arrival of Iran's foreign Minister Saeed Jalili in Moscow. The latter would sit down with Lavrov to hammer out agreement on the Russian plan.
On Monday, too, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin commented that the draft European powers had circulated condemning Syria was “somewhat excessive” and Russia would consider a presidential statement from the council “satisfactory.”
Moscow was encouraged to start meeting Tehran halfway after many Western experts came to the conclusion that the UN, US and European sanctions aimed at making Iran abandon its nuclear drive were wasted effort, with not the slightest effect on slowing Tehran's nuclear momentum.
With little chance of a UN move against Syria, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that additional US steps might target Syria’s oil and gas industry, which is the government’s main source of revenue amid the virtual collapse of the rest of the country’s economy.