Russia: When sanctions on Iran are removed, they’re not snapping back

The folly of the Obama administration’s decision to rely on Russia as a key partner in the White House’s effort to extricate the United States from messy overseas affairs grows more apparent by the day.

The Russians were supposedly instrumental in helping Barack Obama retreat from his self-imposed “red line” for action in Syria after Bashar al-Assad’s regime was implicated in using chemical weapons on civilians. Nearly two years and thousands of dead later, it was recently revealed that not only does Assad continue to use chlorine gas on civilians but that undeclared sarin and VX nerve agents are still being uncovered in Syria by independent observers.

Critics contended in 2013 that Russia did not offer its assistance to help adjudicate the dispute between Syria and the Western world because it had suddenly become a reputable international actor; a fact made abundantly clear months later when Moscow ordered the invasion an annexation of portions of neighboring Ukraine. No, Moscow was preserving a client in Assad and its access to a Russian naval base on the Mediterranean. The administration was aware of this, but it took the easy way out, as they so often do, in observance of its domestic political concerns.

Once again, the administration is playing politics with America’s national security. The Obama administration has noted grimly in the past that, while Russia’s destabilizing behavior in Ukraine is disturbing, there are a variety of areas in which Moscow and Washington could still cooperate. One of those avenues of cooperation was on the administration’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran, no matter how dubious the terms of that arrangement may be. On Thursday, the Kremlin demonstrated again why it should not be trusted.

“The Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical Arabs, Israelis and U.S. lawmakers by saying that United Nations sanctions will be restored automatically if the Iranians are caught cheating,” Bloomberg reported. “Not so, say the Russians, who have one of five vetoes in the 15-member UN Security Council.”

“There can be no automaticity, none whatsoever” in reimposing UN sanctions if Iran violates the terms of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. He didn’t elaborate.

While the Obama administration maintains that Russia agreed “in principle” to the need for a sanctions “snapback” mechanism if Iran fails to comply with the agreement now being negotiated in final form, the Russian government has offered no corroboration.

Like the ill-fated chemical weapons deal with Syria, this was also foreseen by administration critics. The complex web of sanctions imposed on Iran over the course of decades did not come together overnight. Their imposition was the result of painstaking diplomatic efforts on the part of Western nations, and the world’s revisionist actors (Russia and China, namely) have long regarded them as onerous and inconvenient. Once sanctions on Iran are lifted, they are gone for good.

But just because one of the administration’s only remaining mechanisms to force Iranian compliance has disappeared, don’t expect the White House to concede that this development changes the terms of the deal with Iran. It won’t. Nothing could.