Further sanctions against Iran may affect Russia

The US House of Representatives aimed a sharp jab at Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday, slapping new energy sanctions on Tehran, and branding its Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.

A measure targeting the elite military corps and the lucrative Iranian energy sector sailed through the House by 397 votes to 16, hours before Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

The legislation is aimed at depriving Iran of proceeds from energy sales which could be diverted into funding its nuclear program, which the West says is intended to produce atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Its top sponsor, veteran Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Tom Lantos, said the bill was needed because Iran's denials of a nuclear weapons program could not be believed.

"I wish that we could take Ahmadinejad at his word, but we obviously cannot," Lantos said.

"This is the same man who yesterday said, 'Our people are the freest in the world, and there are no homosexuals in Iran.'

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the committee's top Republican, added: "Too many foreign energy firms have become functional allies in Tehran's efforts to build a nuclear bomb."

The bill sanctions foreign companies with US subsidiaries which invest in Iran, particularly in the oil and gas sectors.

It also prohibits civilian nuclear cooperation with nations that support Iran's nuclear program and calls on the US government to urge foreign states and banks to divest from Iranian interests.

The bill passed as six key world powers working to curb Iran's nuclear activities scheduled new talks on imposing new sanctions against the Islamic state, AFP reports.

While hoping that the "uniqueness" of the nuclear issue will make it possible to gain Russia's support, the Westerners are wondering about the degree to which the close interests that link Moscow and Teheran will carry weight in the negotiation opening on new sanctions to impose on Iran. In the joint press conference he gave on Tuesday [18 September] with Bernard Kouchner in Moscow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, considered "unacceptable" the prospect of Iran equipping itself with the nuclear weapon. This reassuring statement of principle, which echoes assertions along the same lines by Vladimir Putin, seems to indicate a community of views between the West and Russia.

Yet the Westerners admit having some difficulty in grasping exactly what the Russian leaders think of the Iranian military nuclear issue. Are they as worried as people in Paris or Washington can be about the prospect of a nuclearization of Iran, or do they feel that ultimately this eventuality would not be so disastrous, as Jacques Chirac let slip when he was in power and which some articles in Russian papers seem to suggest? Have they above all decided to take maximum political advantage of their situation as key mediator? "Recently, we often have the impression that Moscow is taking us for a ride," a puzzled French official confides.

Even if the Russian authorities in the past have played a constructive role by proposing, unsuccessfully, to their Iranian partner that it enrich its uranium in Russia, and even if they have joined the two Security Council resolutions in adopting sanctions and actively participated in the negotiations with Iran conducted by the six countries that have taken up the issue (the UK, Germany, France, Russia, China, the United States), the Europeans and Americans are forced to observe that Moscow today is opposed to the adoption of a third resolution aimed at toughening these sanctions after the two series of measures already taken by the UN Security Council in 2006 and early 2007.

There are objective reasons for this Russian hesitation, Quai d'Orsay [Foreign Ministry] sources emphasize to temper this concern. First of all Iraq. The Russians, burned by the American military intervention in Baghdad and the wave of destabilization it is causing, fear a repetition of Washington's interventionist temptation and take very seriously the announcements of possible strikes, a scenario they believe would lead to a major disorder in the Middle East from which they would suffer, lefigaro.fr reports.

Source: agencies

Author`s name Alex Naumov