The Political Scene (19 March 2001) - Iran, Russia And The US

Published March 20th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

To judge from the Americans’ reaction to the visit to Moscow by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Washington puts the containment of Iran ahead of its relations with Russia as a foreign policy priority. 


Iran, Russia And The US: 

In renewing US sanctions on Iran on 13 March, US President George Bush solemnly stated that “the actions and policies of the Government of Iran continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the US,” which, if true, would probably come as news to most Americans.  


In fact, though, such hyperbole is a reflection not of reality but of two other and rather more psychological factors: Iran’s implacable hostility to Israel (to whose national security it is a threat, or at least a potential one); and the Americans’ apparent inability to forget the hostage crisis of 1980.  


In cruder terms, the Americans have had a bee in their bonnet about Iran ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979, and one symptom of this obsession is a total inability to understand why others do not share it, as was evident during Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s four-day visit to Russia last week.  


Iran’s relations with Russia have been a particularly sore point with the Americans since last November, when the Russians informed the US that they intended to scrap a secret agreement to end conventional arms sales to Iran. 


The 12 March announcement on the first day of Mr Khatami’s visit that the two countries are to resume military cooperation was therefore greeted in Washington with a reaction that seemed disproportionate, particularly since it was far from clear whether any specific arms deal was involved.  


Certainly the Russians did their best to play things down, with President Vladimir Putin stressing on 12 March that “Iran does not intend to arm itself with weapons that lie outside the boundaries of international agreements, by which Russia abides, and Russia does not intend to break its obligations” and adding that “Russia is interested in cooperating for economic reasons.  


As for politics, Iran must be a self-sufficient, independent state which can defend itself.” Similarly, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov emphasized on 14 March that “relations between Russia and Iran are not directed against third countries.  


On the contrary they are meant to stabilize the situation in the region where our countries cooperate.” Even Mr Khatami appeared to take the Americans’ inflamed sensibilities into account, noting on 14 March that “the modern world has not been able to rid itself of the difficult atmosphere of Cold War mentality, expansionist politics and double standards,” but adding that “we can build a united world filled with understanding, dialogue and peace.  


Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran thinks it is inevitable to hold dialogue and to be cooperative with all nations.”  


None of this cut much ice in Washington, where State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 13 March that it was “particularly counterproductive” for Russia to sell things “in their neighborhood in areas that affect us as well that might threaten us all.”  


The next day Mr Boucher, while admitting that the US did not know whether any arms deals had been concluded between Iran and Russia, warned that “there are certain things which quite clearly would cause serious concern to the US and serious ramifications, either legal or policy-wise.”  


And despite the lack of evidence one way or another, 30 Democratic and Republican congressmen felt compelled to send a letter to Mr Bush on 16 March declaring that “the strategic implications of Russia’s arms transfers to Iran cannot be underestimated.  


We believe this act warrants the immediate attention of the US and requires appropriate and significant action.” 



© 2001 Mena Report (

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