Kerry: Can Trust Russia on Iran Sanctions

Foreign policy experts contacted by HUMAN EVENTS sharply criticized Sen. John Kerry’s recent assertion that the United States could trust Russia to tighten sanctions on Iran because “Russia is in a different position today than it was under Bush.”

“This is all happy talk,” said Robert Kagan, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an interview. “We think we know what Russia needs and doesn’t need, and from that we extrapolate that they must be sincerely cooperating, because we think it’s in their interest. This is a solipsistic discussion we are having with ourselves.”

During a press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor last week, I asked Sen. Kerry (D.-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, why he felt the Obama Administration should trust Russia regarding UN sanctions against Iran and its nuclear program when Moscow had not delivered on similar promises in the past.

Specifically, I cited a column in the Washington Post by Kagan which noted that “the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years.” Russia has most recently agreed “for the fourth time in five years to another vacuous UN Security Council Resolution.”

So why is this latest agreement to back sanctions by Russia different, I asked Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.

“I think Russia is in a very different position today from when it was during the course of the Bush years,” Kerry replied. “They were riding pretty high on their energy income and their economic resurgence. That’s turned on them to a large measure. They’ve got some serious challenges and they know it. And so, I think Russia to some degree has settled down to a post-1990 transition period, and it realizes that it needs some relationships, it needs to keep some channels open in Europe. It’s still in transition.

“[Russian President] Medvedev and [Premier] Putin are actually progressive. They realize the need to move Russia and strengthen its economy, to keep its relationships open, and be a constructive partner.”

Kerry went on to criticize the administration of his 2004 opponent, President George W. Bush, saying that “the Bush Administration created a real breach with Russia when it unilaterally announced it would put missile defense [in Eastern Europe]. The President [Obama] has recalibrated that very, very effectively.”

The Foreign Relations Committee chairman concluded by voicing his view that “We’re on a better course with Russia and I think there is a better dialogue taking place and there is a convergence of interests, in my judgment, which help keep us together.”

So what does the man whose op-ed on Russia prompted my query to Kerry think of his answer?

Kagan asked aloud where the evidence is for Kerry’s claim. Referring to his column on Russia and Iran, Kagan said: “My point in that column was that Russia is not doing anything new on Iran. It supported watered-down sanctions resolutions three times in the past, and it has just supported a fourth watered-down resolution. I think the administration and its defenders are sometimes more determined to prove the success of the ‘reset’ policy than they are to accomplish the objectives ‘reset’ was supposed to achieve.

“The simple fact is they did not gain anything after the reset that Bush hadn’t been able to achieve before the reset.”

Some History from Hadley

Veterans of the Bush Administration said in interviews with HUMAN EVENTS that Russia under Vladimir Putin had been helpful in trying to curb Iran and its desire for nuclear weapons. They noted that Moscow has always been nervous that the militant Islamic regime could easily encourage terrorism in Russian states with a large Muslim population.

Stephen Hadley, national security advisor to President Bush in his second term, recalled then-President Putin’s proposal in 2006, “in which he told Iran if they would give up their enrichment facility in Natanz, they would be able to participate in an international enrichment facility in Russia. Iran could participate in the financing and management of that facility and it would supply fuel for nuclear reactors once Iran built some. The one thing Iran could not do was participate technologically, so that the facility would not contribute to an Iranian nuclear capability.”

The proposal, strongly endorsed by Bush and vigorously pursued by Putin’s then-national security advisor Igor Ivanov, was considered but finally rejected by Iran.

Although he made it clear to me he would not engage in debate with either Kerry or Kagan, Hadley chronicled the deterioration of U.S-Russian relations in the final Bush years and it was clearly a very different version from Kerry’s.

“The deterioration in the U.S.-Russia relations was not over the proposed interceptor missiles in Poland or the radar in the Czech Republic,” said Hadley, now with the U.S. Institute for Peace, “although they certainly objected. But we did consult with them.”

“The deterioration was caused by the Russian invasion of Georgia in ’08. We were worried that this could be a prelude to something—Russian troops marching into Tbilisi and overthrowing [President] Saakashvili, then, say, going into Ukraine or the Baltic States. We sent a strong message to Russia that we were opposed to [the Georgian invasion], that we wanted to preserve Saakashvili and discourage their going into Tbilisi.”

“It created a breach between us, all right. But it was the right thing to do and it did prevent them from going on.” Hadley said.