Russia says no automatic sanctions snapback if Iran breaks deal

Moscow denies US claims that punitive measures will be reimposed immediately if Tehran fails to comply with nuclear accord; Czechs say shipment of sensitive equipment blocked

Vitaly Churkin, left, speaks to John Kerry at UN headquarters in New York on September 19, 2014. (photo credit: UN/Eskinder Debebe)
Vitaly Churkin, left, speaks to John Kerry at UN headquarters in New York on September 19, 2014. (photo credit: UN/Eskinder Debebe)

A Russian official on Wednesday bluntly rejected claims that sanctions on Iran would be restored immediately should the Islamic Republic violate the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, poking a hole in a central White House plank meant to soothe critics of the deal.

Speaking to Bloomberg News, UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated that “there can be no automaticity, none whatsoever,” with regard to sanctions on Iran. He did not elaborate any further.

The Obama administration has stated that Russia agreed “in principle” on the need to reimpose sanctions if Iran fails to comply with the agreement, but the Russian government has never confirmed that it agrees with such a stance.

The US has repeatedly pointed to the ability to “snap back” sanctions should Iran violate the deal in a bid to allay fears by allies that Tehran could escape punishing sanctions without actually curbing its enrichment program.

Critics have expressed doubts whether the UN can automatically reimpose sanctions, or whether there will be the international will — specifically from Russia and China — to do so.

In April, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Rybakov told state-run RIA Novosti that any reintroduction of sanctions would need to be voted through by the UN Security Council.

“We are proceeding on the basis that if one of the partners in the talks raises the possibility of sanctions being reintroduced against Iran, in the hypothetical situation that Iran should fail to honour its commitments, then this process should not in any way be automatic,” he said, according to a translation cited by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank.

Under the emerging agreement between Iran and six world powers, including Russia, an international sanctions regime in place for nearly a decade will be rolled back in exchange for Iran cutting back on its nuclear development while also allowing more robust international inspections.

Moscow was quick to announce it would sell Iran the advanced S-300 air defense system last month, following the signing of a framework nuclear accord. The sale had been held up for five years by a ban on selling weapons to Tehran, which Russian officials said was self-imposed.

The international sanctions have isolated Iran from the global financial system for years as well as prohibiting sales of arms and some technologies to the Islamic Republic.

UN experts and Western sources told Reuters Wednesday that Iran had attempted earlier this year to attain a large shipment of sensitive technology usable for nuclear enrichment, but that the Czech Republic managed to block the purchase by after false documentation raised suspicions.

According to the report, Iran in January attempted to buy compressors – which have nuclear and non-nuclear applications from the representatives of US company Howden CKD in the Czech Republic.

Officials at Howden declined to comment on the attempted purchase, but Czech officials indicated the company was not suspected of aiding the Iranian regime’s nuclear aspirations intentionally, Reuters reported.

A Czech state official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the total value of the contract would have been about 1.5 billion Czech koruna ($61 million). He stressed that Czech authorities had halted the deal.

“The procurer and transport company involved in the deal had provided false documentation in order to hide the origins, movement and destination of the consignment with the intention of bypassing export controls and sanctions,” an internal document provided by a special UN panel stated with regard to the blocked purchase.

The panel also noted in its report that Britain informed it of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to blacklisted firms.

On Tuesday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that major portions of a draft nuclear agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 worlds powers have been agreed on, while acknowledging that some small differences remained. Araqchi said he hoped the agreement would be finalized by the target date of June 30.

The so-called P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — is conducting the sensitive negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, in exchange for an easing of punishing economic sanctions.

Tehran denies any interest in nuclear arms.

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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