Israel and the US were holding a one-day, high-level strategic dialogue on
Thursday expected to focus on sanctions against Iran, a day after
Russia announced it opposes “paralyzing” sanctions aimed at the Islamic
Republic’s energy sector.
A week after Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu returned from Moscow, where he publicly called for “crippling
sanctions” and “sanctions with teeth” against Iranian energy exports
and imports, Oleg Rozhkov, the deputy head of the Russian Foreign
Ministry’s security and disarmament department, said that Moscow would
not back “crippling or paralyzing” sanctions that could lead to the
“political or economic or financial isolation” of Iran.
Related: Barak demands UN sanctions on Iran
to Reuters, Rozhkov – when asked by a reporter what sanctions Russia
might support – replied, “Those that are directed at resolving
nonproliferation questions linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
relation to nonproliferation is there in forbidding banking activities
with Iran?” he asked. “This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas.
These sanctions are aimed only at paralyzing the country and paralyzing
Despite these comments, the Israeli and US teams on
Thursday had been expected to concentrate on the issue of sanctions to halt
Iran’s nuclear program. A possible military strike is not expected to
be discussed, since Washington has made clear that while it might need
to be discussed in the future, the military option is not now on the
There is currently no known discussion between Israel
and the US, at any level, about military action, even though over the
years both countries have said that it should not be taken off the
In Washington, meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said that Iran’s continuing refusal to provide more information
on its nuclear program had left the international community “little
choice” but to impose new, tough sanctions on Teheran.
congressional testimony on Wednesday, Clinton said Iran’s failure to
accept the Obama administration’s offers of engagement and prove its
nuclear intentions were peaceful had given the US and its partners new
resolve in pressuring Teheran to comply with international demands
through fresh penalties.
“We have pursued a dual-track approach
to Iran that has exposed its refusal to live up to its responsibilities
and helped us achieve a new unity with our international partners,” she
told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Iran has left the
international community little choice but to impose greater costs and
pressure in the face of its provocative steps. We are now working
actively with our partners to prepare and implement new measures to
pressure Iran to change its course,” Clinton said, in comments that
seemed at odds with Rozhkov’s statement in Moscow.
office had no comment on Rozhkov’s remarks, while one government
official said Israel would likely seek clarification from the Kremlin.
position articulated by Rozhkov runs contrary to the impression
Netanyahu gave reporters last week in Moscow when, after meeting with
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, he said the feeling toward
sanctions in Moscow today was dramatically different than it was 10
Clinton addressed the possibility that Congress
might impose its own sanctions on Iran, besides those the US was
seeking through the UN Security Council. Congressional sanctions might
be tougher than any for which the United States could win international
approval at the UN, but the US wants international backing for its
tough stance against Iran and sees the UN penalties as a powerful
symbol of world resolve against an Iranian bomb.
from Moscow came as a bit of a surprise, as top officials both in
Washington and Jerusalem have expressed optimism in recent weeks that
significant nonmilitary action, such as “crippling” sanctions, could
have a real impact on Teheran.
The Israeli delegation to
Thursday’s strategic dialogue in Jerusalem will be led by Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, while the US team will be headed by
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. This is the first meeting of
the strategic dialogue framework, which was set up in 1999, since
Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama came into office.
meeting comes as both Jerusalem and Washington believe that Iran is
making its international position more difficult by continuing to talk
about enriching uranium to higher levels. While it is unclear exactly
which way China – which holds a veto on the UN Security Council – will
vote on sanctions, there is a growing sense that it would be unlikely
to buck the will of most of the rest of the world – and the other
permanent members of the Security Council – and scuttle sanctions. This
assessment is largely based on previous Chinese behavior and Beijing’s
general reticence to defy international consensus.
Israeli delegation, led by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, left for Beijing on Wednesday
to lobby on behalf of sanctions.
In the run-up to the Security
Council sanctions vote, expected sometime in March, the US is doing its
utmost to distance itself from any hint that sanctions were intended
for regime change in Teheran, and not only to stop the nuclear program.
The fear is that this could chase both Russia and China away from
supporting a fourth round of sanctions.
For instance, Rozhkov told reporters on Wednesday
that “Russia isn’t working or participating in actions which should
lead to overthrowing the existing regime. We are working with the US
and others... only to solve those concerns we have regarding Iranian
Also on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov suggested that a delay in delivering air-defense missiles
to Iran was connected with concerns about regional tensions.
signed a contract in 2007 to sell S-300 missiles to Iran, a move that
would substantially boost the country’s defense capacities and make an
attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities more difficult.
asked about the delivery, said Russia never takes “any actions leading
to the destabilization of this or that region. All deliveries of
Russian weapons abroad follow from the need to strictly respect this
It marks the first time Russia has publicly called
into question the wisdom of honoring its contractual obligations to
Iran. Various Russian defense officials had suggested in recent weeks,
including the day before Netanyahu went to Moscow last week, that the
commitment to supply the missiles would be fulfilled.
pressed on the specific reason for the missile holdup, Lavrov broadened
the question by referring to arms sales by any country to South
America, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
“There are certain principles we need to be guided by when selling
arms,” he said. “We cannot sell weapons if it will destabilize any of
Netanyahu, asked after his meeting last week with President Dmitry
Medvedev whether he had received assurances that Moscow would not
supply the weapons systems, said, “I trust what I heard from the
president of Russia. I trust him because I know that in this issue,
Russia is guided by concerns about regional stability.”AP contributed to this report.