Russia’s energy minister announced a broad program of cooperation with Iran in the oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries on Wednesday that appeared to invite Russian companies to contravene sanctions the Obama administration adopted just two weeks ago.
The sanctions were meant to be an additional means of punishing Iran for refusing to unwind its secretive nuclear program after the United States was able to persuade Russia and China to agree to only limited new trade restrictions in a fourth United Nations Security Council resolution against Iran, passed in June. Australia, Canada and Europe also decided to put additional measures against Iran in place.
While clearly intended to discourage the type of investment the Russian minister discussed, the United States sanctions law provides a presidential waiver for companies in countries otherwise seen as cooperating in discouraging Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran, though a major exporter of crude oil, imports tens of thousands of gallons of gasoline daily to make up for its faltering refining capacity, limited by years of international isolation.
The American sanctions impose penalties on foreign entities that sell refined petroleum to Iran or assist Iran with its domestic refining capacity, a focus intended to exact a harsh financial toll on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the hard-line group that oversees the country’s nuclear and missile programs and controls much of its oil industry.
Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, voiced opposition to adding any sanctions beyond those imposed by the United Nations, and the Foreign Ministry warned the United States against trying to punish Russian companies under the new unilateral sanctions.
On Wednesday, Russia’s minister of fuel and energy took the most overt stance against the American sanctions so far, announcing the plans for closer cooperation between Russian and Iranian petroleum interests.
The minister, Sergei I. Shmatko, met in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart, Massoud Mir-Kazemi, and issued a joint statement praising “active cooperation between Russian and Iranian companies in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, which are developing and widening in their joint work.”
But it was unclear how immediately action would be taken. The Russian statement suggested that a working group be formed to identify areas of deeper cooperation in the oil and petrochemical industries, proposing a study for a Russian-Iranian joint venture oil company and a binational bank to finance such projects. The statement suggested Iran market its crude oil on Russian commodity exchanges.
The oil dealings between the countries would force the United States to make difficult choices only if Russian companies followed through on the broad plans with specific agreements, Cliff Kupchan, a research director at the Eurasia Group, said in a telephone interview.
And this seemed unlikely, at least at the moment, he said, given the recent warming in bilateral relations with the United States, Russian backing for the United Nations sanctions against Iran and the successful spy swap this month.
Sergei A. Karaganov, a dean of the faculty of international relations at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said Russia would resist sanctions that could harm the economic well-being of a wide portion of Iran’s population and add to political turmoil.
The gasoline embargo imposed by the United States could do both, Mr. Karaganov said.
Source NY Times