Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Russia Attempts to Save P5+1 Talks: S-300 Missile Batteries to Iran

Russia did its part to support the nuclear deal with Iran by announcing the sale of a S-300 antiaircraft missile system to the Islamic Republic (Neil MacFarquhar, "Putin Lifts Ban on Russian Missile Sales to Iran"). Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying that supplying the missile system to Iran is meant as a spur the to the nuclear talks:
“It was done in the spirit of good will in order to encourage progress in the talks,” Mr. Lavrov said in a televised statement. “We believe that the need for this kind of embargo, indeed a separate, voluntary Russian embargo, has completely disappeared.” 
The missile deal does not pose a threat to Israel, Mr. Lavrov said, emphasizing that the S-300 is a defensive weapon.
This move is directed at the Saudis, who along with ten other nations (including the the U.S.) are bombing impoverished Yemen into rubble, the Israelis, who immediately cried foul, and the U.S. Senate as it sets about hijacking the P5+1 talks ("Senate Leaders and White House Make Their Cases on Iran Deal Legislation" by Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear). The message is clear. The costs for scuttling the nuclear agreement have just gone up:
The five S-300 squadrons cannot shield all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, said Simon Saradzhyan, an expert on arms control and Russia at Harvard University’s Belfer Center, while noting that Russia just sold China the more sophisticated S-400 system. The official Tass news agency reported that in February Moscow offered Tehran an air defense system more modern than the S-300, but that no decision had been made. 
Still, military experts said the highly capable S-300 system would make it much harder for the United States or Israel to stage airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The question is whether Russia will actually deliver the missile battery. As was the case with delivery of the S-300 to Syria, often these announcements are used as bargaining chips, with Moscow suspending or delaying shipment; hence, the qualified support from an Iranian official:
If Russia fulfills its commitment to deliver the S-300 missile system to Iran, it will be a step towards boosting the relations and collaborations between the two countries,” Iran’s deputy defense minister, Reza Talaei-Nik, told the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency on Monday. “It will be a step forward.”
But I do think a marker has been laid down by Russia, and it is not just the threat of increased costs for a future attack on Iran. The bigger message that Russia is broadcasting is that absent a broad, international understanding with Iran, sanctions, cobbled together over years, will be undermined:
Although the full details have not been disclosed, the Russian news media reported that Moscow had negotiated an oil-for-goods exchange with Iran that would involve acquiring some 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil a day in exchange for Russian equipment and goods. Iran has long been one of the main buyers of Russian wheat, for example.
As Obama beseeches Jewish lobbyists and wealthy donors in the White House to support the tentative nuclear agreement, the Senate is trying to comb out the poison pills from whatever bill Congress passes, poison pills that will prevent an override of an Obama veto. Right now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is wrestling with two provisions: 1) White House certification every 90 days that Iran is not engaged in terrorism, and 2) a 60-day review period by Congress before the president can waive any sanctions.

My sense is that Congress will deliver a bill, and that Obama will be forced to veto it. Congress will deliver because wealthy, powerful interests -- Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel and her supporters -- demand it.

Obama -- never having challenged the false narrative of Iranian aggression; in fact, he has actively promoted it -- has no one to blame but himself. He is not operating from a position of strength. His point of view, that of a reasonable hawk, the realpolitik of a Zbigniew Brzezinski, does not have the broad public support of say the know-nothing, hard right "bomb, bomb Iran" or the well-read, anti-war progressive.

So Obama is sunk, as is the Democratic Party. The Democrat Party is hopelessly split. The activist base is antiwar, but the party apparatus actively supports the warfare state.

Whether Congress can override Obama's veto is almost beside the point. Obama is a lame duck, his antiwar stance never anything much more than a campaign promise. More war is coming.

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