Russian support for Iran sanctions at risk amid Georgia rift
The US bid to promote a fourth round of sanctions may get lost amid sharp dispute over Russian military action in Georgia.
Fierce American criticism of Russia's military action in Georgia is almost certain to jeopardize a very different US strategic objective: stepping up pressure on Iran with another layer of United Nations sanctions.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As builders of Iran's $800 million nuclear power reactor, Russia has long resisted imposing sanctions to halt Iran's program, which the US says is a cover to make an atomic bomb. Washington has convinced Moscow to support three previous sets of Security Council sanctions.
But US efforts to launch a fourth set of sanctions – begun last week, as Iran all but ignored a US-European deadline on a nuclear deal – may get lost in the shrill US-Russian tussle in the Caucasus.
"This will make any hope of cooperative effort on Iran much more difficult," says Michael McFaul, a Russia and Iran expert at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Support on Iran, he says, is "without question" the biggest strategic casualty of the renewed US-Russia tension.
Iran is "the last serious issue where the Bush administration has decisions to make in terms of changing policy," says Mr. McFaul. It is also "the one place … of high national security interest to the United States where Russia plays a direct role in what we are trying to do. In that sense, it towers over all these other things."
US and European officials are scrambling for ways to punish Russia for moving armed forces into separatist, pro-Russian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in pro-West Georgia, and then into Georgia itself, to counter a Georgian military invasion late last week.
After five days of fighting that routed Georgia's small, US-advised forces, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said the "aggressors" had been "punished" and ordered an end to operations. Russia lambasted Georgia's US-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili as a "terrorist" and "lunatic" who should be tried for "genocide."
But the rhetoric has also been unusually blunt between the US and Russia. President Bush this week demanded Russia end a "dramatic and brutal escalation of violence."
"This has come at a very opportune time for Iran," says a Tehran-based political analyst who asked not to be named. "Any new rift between the US and Russians would be welcome by Iran … anything that give Iran more time and a little more headache for the US."
Georgia is not far from Iran's borders, and "up to a point, Iran would be quietly happy, but the conflict can escalate to something that would cause more instability and suffering," says the analyst, which Iran does not want.
US warplanes carried 2,000 Georgian troops out of Iraq Sunday, until then the third-largest coalition member, which manned checkpoints to prevent weapons smuggling along Iraq's border with Iran.