Russia to back 'smart' Iran sanctions

Putin demands admission to WTO; Clinton: new nuclear reduction treaty in April.

March 20, 2010 07:34
3 minute read.
Putin and Clinton at Putin's dacha

Putin & Clinton 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday that Russia may accede to a sanctions resolution on Iran, RIA state news agency reported, adding Putin went on to caution Clinton that sanctions "do not always help to resolve such an issue and that sometimes they can have a counterproductive impact"

Putin "gave his appraisal of the situation in Iran and underlined that such a situation (involving Russian support of a sanctions resolution) was possible," RIA quoted Putin's deputy chief of staff Yuri Ushakov as saying.

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In their first meeting since Clinton became secretary of state, Putin – considered by many to be the real power in Russia – greeted the Secretary of State with a volley of complaints about trade and Russia's difficulties in joining the World Trade Organization.

Also on Friday, Clinton stated in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Moscow, the US and Russia were close to signing a new nuclear arms-control agreement. "We hope to have a signing ceremony between President Medvedev and President Obama in early April," she said.

Clinton's meetings, at the end of a two-day trip, reflected continuing tensions in the US-Russia relationship a year after the Obama administration launched a "reset." Although the two sides have moved closer on issues ranging from arms control to Afghanistan, cooperation remains difficult.

At what was supposed to be a ceremonial photo op, Putin launched into a list of complaints about the drop in US trade during the economic crisis, Russia's difficulties in joining the World Trade Organization and US sanctions that have affected Russian companies. The latter subject appeared to be a reference to penalties on firms doing business with Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Clinton looked unfazed by the blunt lecture, which her aides attributed to the desire of a politician to perform for the Russian TV cameras on a domestically important issue. She highlighted how the two sides were coming close to a nuclear arms-control agreement and mentioned a recent visit by high-tech executives to Russia organized by the State Department and White House.


Clinton's agenda in Moscow was dominated by the near-complete agreement to reduce each side's deployed long-range nuclear weapons, and the US-led drive for tough sanctions on Iran. She also met with international mediators to discuss Middle East peace.

In a news conference earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed caution about sanctions on Iran, saying the Kremlin was not alarmed by the Islamic republic's nuclear program and wanted to avoid "aggressive" penalties.

The remarks highlighted the limits the Obama administration could face in getting new sanctions approved by the UN Security Council. One of Clinton's top aides, Undersecretary of State William Burns, told reporters on her plane Wednesday that the US government felt "a sense of urgency" about Iran's nuclear program and that "it's time to demonstrate that there are consequences."

Lavrov acknowledged that the Kremlin was unhappy with Iran's latest actions — which include rejecting a Russian-backed plan aimed at quickly reducing the Islamic republic's stockpile of enriched uranium. And sanctions were sometimes "impossible to avoid," he said through a translator, quoting a previous comment by President Dmitry Medvedev.

Despite Lavrov's reluctant tone on sanctions, Clinton aides took heart at his comments. They noted he had until recently been one of the harshest critics of such penalties among senior Russian officials. His list of conditions for sanctions indicated he was ready to agree to work on a new resolution, they said.

Clinton told the news conference that US efforts to get a sanctions resolution "are making progress" and that "we expect to reach consensus around an appropriate response." She expressed support for what she called Medvedev's idea of "smart sanctions" that did not harm the general public.

The US government is focusing on sanctions that would target members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and the businesses they operate.

Russia had sought to water down three previous sets of UN sanctions, and its support will be crucial in getting a resolution passed.

Putin said on Thursday that Iran's new Russian-built nuclear power plant will begin operating this summer, even as the United States called for Russia to delay the startup.

In apparent response, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – in Moscow on an official trip – urged Russia not to start up the plant until Teheran proves that it's not developing atomic weapons.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a joint news conference with Clinton, immediately stepped in to say that Russia would put the reactor online.

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