The European Union followed the United States in approving its own tougher sanctions on Iran Thursday, targeting Iran’s oil and gas industry a day after the US Treasury slapped new restrictions on a number of Iranian banks, companies, and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
But the EU and US measures, which go beyond the new sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council last week, drew a blast of condemnation from Russia, which said the separate measures undermine the major powers’ joint effort to influence Tehran over its nuclear program.
In a statement calling the US and EU actions “unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the US and EU for putting themselves above the Security Council and weakening “the foundations for our dialogue and interaction.” Russia joined the US, France, Britain, China, and seven nonpermanent members of the Security Council in voting for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran June 8.
The statement, attributed to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, added that “the same story is repeated again and again: As soon as we reach a common understanding in the UN Security Council on a package of finely calibrated measures to influence Iran through sanctions, the US and EU don’t stop at that … and display political disregard for their partnership with Russia.”
US officials responded to the Russian criticism by insisting that the additional US and EU measures complement the Security Council action targeting entities and individuals linked to the nuclear program. The additional measures do not “go beyond” the Security Council in the sense of hurting the Iranian public, the line they say Russia drew when considering the sanctions resolution.
Moscow could not have been surprised by the quick move to tougher additional sanctions in Washington and Brussels. Both the Obama administration and European leaders had said for weeks before the Security Council vote that they would press for additional sanctions of their own once the UN resolution was passed. Both US and EU officials acknowledged that the resolution had been watered down to get China and Russia on board. Additional Western sanctions would be a way to make up for what was lost in Security Council negotiations, they said.
But the Russian government may have been motivated by domestic concerns in much the same way the US Treasury Department was in part motivated by disappointment on Capitol Hill with what many lawmakers saw as a weak UN sanctions resolution. Having gone along with the US on sanctioning Iran, the government of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev does not want to appear to Russians as Washington’s dupe, some Russia analysts say.
That is all the more true given that Mr. Medvedev will meet with President Obama at the White House next week, after first visiting California’s Silicon Valley. The visit to a symbol of America’s technological prowess suggests Russia’s interest in cooperative ventures in cutting-edge industries, but also risks reminding Russians of American superiority in another field, some experts say.
In approving its new measures, the EU said “new restrictive measures have become inevitable” as a result of Tehran’s failure to respond to the many “opportunities” it has had to answer the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.
The measures, approved at a summit of EU leaders, include steps to block investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry. Both houses of the US Congress have also approved measures targeting Iran’s primary industry, but passage of a final reconciled bill was put off by the administration’s desire to see the UN resolution approved first.
But US officials suggested Thursday that Russia should not see the new US and EU measures as going behind its back on the matter of Iran. “The Russians have consistently expressed concerns that any sanctions not impact the Iranian people,” said Mark Toner, the State Department's acting deputy spokesman. “Those are concerns that we share [but] we believe that the steps we’ve announced as well as the EU has announced earlier today are targeted against entities and individuals and not the Iranian people.”