On Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that “the Kremlin has formally lifted its own ban on the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran, setting the legal groundwork for the possible Russian sale of a powerful air-defense system to Tehran.” On Tuesday the Journal reported that an Iranian official said he believed Iran would receive the air-defense system as early as this year, though Russian officials suggested the delivery could take longer. The Journal quotes officials as follows:
“I think [the S-300] will be delivered this year,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Interfax news agency Tuesday in Moscow, where he was participating in a meeting for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. “The elimination of this issue will foster further development of our bilateral relations.”
Russian officials were vaguer about the time frame. Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said any delivery would take “some time,” citing a minimum of six months on any order. “It depends on our producers,” he said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he couldn’t name a specific date.
The S-300 missile system reputedly provides sophisticated and effective air defense. It would vastly complicate any attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Russia contracted with Iran to deliver the system in 2007, but in 2010 Russia suspended delivery. However, as the Journal puts it, Russia “pulled out of the deal in 2010 under pressure from the U.S. and Israel and banned S-300 sales to Iran, stimulating progress in the [nuclear] talks.”
In 2010 the Obama administration claimed credit for persuading Russia to kill the deal with Iran. At his Council of Foreign Relations blog Pressure Points, Elliott Abrams documents the statements of Obama administration officials crowing about Russia’s suspension of delivery of the missile system at the time.
Abrams links to Josh Rogin’s Foreign Policy article “How the Obama team convinced Russia not to sell arms to Iran.” Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, when the Obama administration could claim the fruits of appeasement before the bill came due. Abrams cruelly plucks this crowing of Obama administration officials from Rogin’s account:
“The decision was a bold one that acknowledges how important it is to us and how important Medvedev takes this reset with President Obama.” The officials explained that the Obama administration made clear to Medvedev and other Russian officials that the sale of the S-300 to Iran was a red line that couldn’t be crossed….
Another red line done gone. Or, as Abrams puts it:
Oh well: that was then and this is now. American “red lines” aren’t what they used to be, Medvedev is gone, and the “reset” with Russia is an embarrassment. So is the way the Obama administration claimed credit for changing Russia’s policy toward Iran.
For the record, Abrams notes the reservation entered at the time by former Bush administration official David Kramer as recorded by Rogin:
Not everyone got it wrong. That same Foreign Policy article contains this comment from David Kramer– assistant secretary of state for democracy and human rights in the George W. Bush administration, then president of Freedom House, now a senior fellow at the McCain Institute: “Let’s wait a bit before we pop open the champagne.” Kramer added that “Alas, speaking the truth about Russia isn’t likely to happen as long as the Obama administration spins its ‘reset’ policy with Russia as one of its major foreign policy successes.”
For “Russia” then, substitute “Iran” now. Saying anything in a bad cause is the operative principle for the Obama administration. It is a principle that comes right from the top.
State Department spokesman Marie Harf, however, is on the case. “We’ve certainly made our concerns with the sale of the S-300 system to Iran known for some time, this certainly isn’t new,” Harf stated at Monday afternoon’s press briefing. Harf explained:
“The Secretary raised those concerns in a call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. We don’t believe it’s constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with this, but we’ve worked very closely with the Russians on the P5+1 negotiations. We don’t think this will have an impact on unity in terms of inside the negotiating room. So they did discuss it, discussed the Iran negotiations in general as well…”
At the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz reports that “North Korea transfers missile goods to Iran during nuclear talks.” Gertz states that the transfers from North Korea to Iran appear to violate sanctions on both countries. Gertz adds: “Details of the arms shipments were included in President Obama’s daily intelligence briefings and officials suggested information about the transfers was kept secret from the United Nations, which is in charge of monitoring sanctions violations.”
Ms. Harf must have her hands full. Gertz concludes: “White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan declined to comment. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not return emails seeking comment.”