UN envoy: Russia's move spells end of sanctions

Diplomat dismayed at Moscow's cancellation of Iran talks, surprised at Ahmadinejad's warm welcome.

By ALLISON HOFFMAN, HERB KEINON IN NEW YORK
September 24, 2008 09:13
3 minute read.
UN envoy: Russia's move spells end of sanctions

Ahmadinejad China 224 ap. (photo credit: )

 
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Objections from Moscow, angered by Washington's criticism of its invasion of Georgia, have forced the cancellation of high-level talks on Iran that were scheduled for Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, endangering a fourth round of Security Council sanctions against Iran. "We do not see any sort of 'fire' that requires us to toss everything aside and meet to discuss Iran's nuclear program in the middle of a packed week at the United Nations General Assembly," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. "On the contrary, there are more urgent questions - for example, the situation in Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border - but our Western partners for some reason aren't rushing to discuss these," he said. One senior American diplomat said on Wednesday that "there clearly is spillover of the difficulties created by the Georgia crisis, difficulties with Russian behavior that we have to work through." Russia's move is a blow to the US, which wants to maintain cooperation amid their dispute over the Georgia conflict, and to France, whose Foreign Ministry on Tuesday announced plans for the meeting. French President Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated an end to the five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia over a pro-Russian breakaway region. UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said she felt Russia's move spelled the end of sanctions. "We don't see it working or leading anywhere," she told The Jerusalem Post. She said she was especially surprised by the warm welcome Iranian President Ahmadinejad received from the General Assembly, whose members the next day were equally warm toward President Shimon Peres. "It was very upsetting, the whole atmosphere - yesterday they were hugged and applauded," she said. Shalev said the key will be focusing on what happens in the weeks following the General Assembly, when the real work of the UN gets under way out of the media spotlight. "Time here is of the essence," she said. "We know that Iran is developing its nuclear capabilities, we know that Iran is going to share this capacity with others and this presents an immediate threat to Israel, from Hamas in the south [and from] Hizbullah in the north." When asked about efforts to punish Iran with embargoes and sanctions outside the UN framework, she answered, "We should do whatever we can." Although Russia cancelled the talks on Iran, it has not withdrawn from the Quartet meeting scheduled for Friday. The Quartet is made up of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. One of the topics expected to come up at the meeting is Russia's interest in holding a Middle East Conference in Moscow in November. One Israeli official said it was highly unlikely Moscow would also drop out of the Quartet talks, since this forum gave the Kremlin a "presence" in the Middle East, something they would be loath to forfeit. Regarding the Iranian talks, the official said Russia's refusal to take part indicates that - for all intents and purposes - further UN sanctions are unlikely. "The war in Georgia marked the end of the sanctions," the official said. "It was just a matter of time." The official added there was nothing Israel could do to get Moscow to reverse course. "We hope that it is not Russia's last word, and that they will change their mind. But we have no influence on them on this issue. We are not a factor whether they do or not participate; it all has to do with their relationship with the US." Another Israeli government official said that the Russian decision will force other countries to decide whether to impose harsher sanctions on their own against Iran. Up to now, the official said, the sanctions proposed were "the lowest common denominator," because the idea was to get Russia and China to agree to them. The official said it was also quite possible that the countries interested in a fourth round of sanctions would bring a resolution to a vote in the Security Council even over Russian objections, and that such a resolution would probably pass by a 9-7 margin. The official said it was not a given that Russia or China would veto the resolution, because it does not directly touch on their interests. The previous sanction resolutions had been adopted by consensus. The official added, however, that it isn't clear that all the countries in Europe would be willing to back much harsher sanctions, though England and France could be counted on. Bloomberg and AP contributed to this report.

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