March 3, 2015

IRAN: Russia’s Missile Gambit, Offering Antiballistic Missiles To Iran, Currying Favor With The Mullahs March 2, 2015.

The Wall Street Journal
written by John Vinocur
Monday March 2, 2015

From deep in a world of wishful thinking, the White House’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said on Friday that the Obama administration is hopeful of holding together “the unanimity of support” it is getting from countries described as a coalition working together to stop Iran’s rush toward nuclear weapons.

Was the White House closed for a spiritual retreat earlier in the week? Because last Monday, Russia offered to sell the Islamic Republic its most advanced S-300VM Antey-2500 antiballistic missiles. They would protect the mullahs’ nuclear installations from eventual strikes by Israel and/or—you couldn’t have forgotten President Barack Obama’s warnings that “everything remains on the table”—the United States.

Here was an extraordinary moment that roused barely a peep from the administration and piddling press coverage in the U.S., France, Britain and Germany, the countries that make up with Russia and China the American-led group negotiating with Tehran.

Extraordinary because Moscow deliberately picked a decisive phase in the bargaining process to send a brazen signal. And a coherent one in the sense that its gesture was one of unmistakable contempt for the U.S. and the West.

Most important, the missile proposition was immediately destabilizing since it savaged the notion, cherished in Washington and Western Europe, that the Kremlin is committed to compartmentalizing its approach to Iran—that is, walling it off into a cooperative sanitary zone away from the lies, maneuvers and gun-in-hand Russian strategy concerning Ukraine and the security of Europe.

Instead, the move said the Russians think they can both oppose Iran getting nukes and, through the offer of the missiles, come out from the current talks, concluding at the end of March, with the mullahs on their side regardless of the negotiations’ results. That’s hardly a Tehran moving closer to America, an event which the Obama administration seems to fantasize will accompany a deal.

For emphasis, Vladimir Putin ’s old KGB pal, Sergei Chemezov, head of the Russian state-weapons conglomerate Rostec, personally proposed supplying the missiles. Add this dose of spite: Mr. Chemezov is on Washington’s Crimea sanctions list. He said the Iranians are thinking the offer over.

The Antey-2500 missiles are a substantially improved version of the S-300V the Russians contracted to sell to Iran in 2007. The deal was cancelled by Russia in 2010 after a United Nations Security Council resolution banning the sale or transfer to Iran of missile systems. Russian accounts say the Antey-2500 missiles on offer aren’t listed among the excluded systems.

The U.S. reaction was of the don’t-bother-us mode. “It’s just some reports,” said the State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. Apparently the direct quotes from Mr. Chemezov via a Russian state-run news agency, stating that “We offered the Antey-2500 instead of the S-300,” don’t count.

Ms. Psaki issued a clause saying maybe-we’ll-take-a-look-later-at-an-appropriate-level, as if to cut off the story’s legs.

A good way to evaluate the Obama administration’s connection with reality on dealing with Iran was once to check this or that potentially deluded aspect with the French. They hadn’t inexactly called themselves “the guardians of the temple” on nuclear proliferation. Example: In 2013, when an interim agreement was about to be signed setting up the current talks with Iran, France successfully insisted that neutralization of the mullahs’ Arak nuclear site be included. America was prepared to leave it out.

And for verbal resolve on Iran, you couldn’t do better than when President François Hollande told Saudi Arabia’s royals in 2013 that France sought “the certainty, the guarantee that Iran definitively renounces atomic weapons.”

But now, when I asked a senior French official participating in the Iran negotiations about the Russian missile gambit and its implications, he responded: “Juridically, they can do it.” He added, “Politically, we’re not following it now.”

Talk about compartmentalization. The lessons of Russia’s march into Ukraine or its maneuvers on NATO’s borders won’t be superimposed onto Paris’s strategy for dealing with Iran, marking a French willingness, more in line with Washington’s, to disconnect from the issue’s widest realities.

So where are the French “guardians of the temple” these days, the ornery nuclear nags previously ready, they said, to lie across the tracks of an ambiguous or plainly bad deal that would leave Iran with an eventual good shot at nukes?

George Perkovich, the nuclear-security-and-proliferation expert who is vice president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me, referring to the “guardians” and Iran: “It’s become a different world. The circumstances and issues in the negotiations are not nearly as propitious as they once saw them.”

Russia apart—although the West’s unwillingness to deal with Moscow’s new disruptiveness on Iran says a lot about how it will ultimately face up to the mullahs—I wanted to know from the French how they see things turning out.

“The question for us is not Obama versus Netanyahu,” the senior French official said, seeking to return to the old sound of French noncompromise and autonomy on an issue of enormous importance. “The question is a weak agreement against a robust one. At this stage, the agreement with Iran currently under discussion is not robust.”

He added very diplomatically, “Of course, in three weeks, we’ll see.”

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