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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Medvedev Hints of Support for Iran Sanctions

APPresidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama ending their meeting in New York on Wednesday. Also present were Lavrov, left, and Clinton, right.

President Dmitry Medvedev has hinted that Russia might support U.S.-backed sanctions against Iran and praised President Barack Obama’s administration for its decision to scrap the missile shield plan in Central Europe.

But Medvedev’s apparent willingness to cooperate on Iran, which is being widely interpreted as a Russian concession to the United States, does not mark a departure from Moscow’s previous position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, defense analysts said Thursday.

“We believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Medvedev said after meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

Medvedev said Russia’s position on new sanctions, which the United States wants, is that they rarely bring positive results. “But in certain situations the use of sanctions is inevitable,” he said.

Russia is building a nuclear power station in Iran and is the country’s most important supplier of advanced weapon systems.

Shortly after making his statement, Medvedev took to the podium at the UN General Assembly and lauded Obama for abandoning plans to install radar and missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland, an initiative that the previous administration of President George W. Bush had insisted was needed to protect the United States and its allies from a possible missile attack by Iran. Last week, Obama announced that the missile  defense system — the sorest point in U.S.-Russian relations in recent years — would be replaced by another that envisioned moving the anti-missile facilities closer to Iran and away from Russia’s western border.

U.S. officials have said the decision was not a concession but rather, as Obama put it, a “bonus” to Russia.

Still, Medvedev said in his address that Obama’s move “deserves a positive response.”

Russia is among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany that will meet in Geneva next Thursday to urge Iran to halt uranium enrichment and reveal full information about its nuclear program. Iran maintains that its nuclear activities are peaceful, a view that is publicly shared by Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that there was no evidence that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb.

Also, on the same day that Obama announced his change of plans on missile defense last week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that pushing ahead with sanctions would ruin the negotiation process with Iran.

Russia and China, another permanent member of the UN Security Council, have been blocking or watering down U.S. proposals for sanctions against Iran.

But on Wednesday, Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and foreign ministers from the other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany discussed the Iran problem in New York and emerged with a joint statement that said the countries “expect a serious response from Iran.” The statement warned that there would be consequences for Iran if its negotiators don’t give substantial answers to questions at the Geneva talks.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also addressed the General Assembly on Wednesday, but he did not mention the nuclear issue.

Medvedev did not say anything that differed from Russia’s original position on Iran, and expecting Russia to make a concession after Obama shifted on missile defense would amount to “shopper’s logic” that doesn’t work in international relations, said Pavel Zolotaryov, a political analyst with the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

If Russia wanted to make a concession, Medvedev would not have made a vague diplomatic promise but offered something real, like refusing to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, said Vladimir Sotnikov, an Iran specialist at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The sale of the advanced weapon systems was agreed on in 2007, but the Kremlin has halted delivery on the request of Israel and the United States. If deployed to guard Iranian nuclear facilities, the S-300 systems would dramatically increase the cost of a possible air strike against Iranian nuclear infrastructure, which is still on the table of Israeli military planners. The S-300 can track dozens of flying targets, including cruise missiles, and engage six of them at a time.

“If Russia is to give up Iran, the United States and the West have to offer something much bigger to Moscow than the scrapping of the missile defense system that never existed,” Sotnikov said.

Even if Russia supported sanctions, it would take months before it would have to vote on them, said Vladimir Yevseyev, a security analyst with the Institute of Global Economy and International Affairs.

“There will be no breakthrough at the October talks. Iran is not prepared to do anything concrete,” he said.

If that happens, several rounds of Security Council consultations would follow, and even then the sides would have to wait until the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Agency for Atomic Energy, issues a report about Iran in December, Yevseyev said.

“Russia indeed needs to be convinced that talks with Iran are fruitless before it will agree to sanctions,” he said.

Sanctions would not significantly impede Iran’s nuclear program but would amount to a strong diplomatic affront on the Islamic Republic, he added. “Iran is not North Korea. It is not a global outcast,” he said.

Russia and the United States are cooperating in stalling North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Medvedev and Obama also expressed confidence Wednesday that a pivotal security pact between their two countries to cut their nuclear arsenals would be reached by December, when a Cold War-era treaty on the cuts expires.