Cablegate: Dfm Ryabkov Meets Codel Tauscher: Iran, Missile Defense,

DE RUEHMO #3728/01 3581207
P 231207Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: DFM Ryabkov meets Codel Tauscher: Iran, Missile Defense,
Bilateral Relations

1. (SBU) Summary: Meeting the Codel Tauscher delegation on
December 16, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov stressed that
Russia wanted improved relations with the U.S., even as he
acknowledged the "negative mindset" of the Russian public and the
damage that issues like NATO enlargement had produced in the
relationship. He urged "bold moves" by the new administration
towards Iran, and reiterated Russian arguments against further
sanctions; pressed for an alternate approach, he indicated Russia
might produce a "food for thought" paper on the way ahead, but
judged the P5+1 proposal to still be relevant. He discounted
Iranian statements on missile development as fodder for the domestic
audience. Ryabkov stressed the "great disconnect" over missile
defense and reviewed GOR opposition to the Polish and Czech sites.
Noting there was no easy antidote, he urged re-engagement. While
Ryabkov was skeptical of "total change" under the next
administration, he welcomed any moves away from "fait accompli
diplomacy." End Summary

U.S.-Russia Relations

2. (SBU) In a December 16 meeting with Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA),
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), Rep. Doug
Lamborn (R-CO), staff members, and the Ambassador, DFM Ryabkov
welcomed intensified congressional exchanges, noting they comprised
a "vital core" to the bilateral relationship. Ryabkov stressed that
Russia was "very, very focused and engaged" on the future of
U.S.-Russian relations, which were indispensable both for Russian
interests and Russia's place in the world. While the agenda was
complex and the "history not easy," Russia was prepared to look
forward; rather than focusing on differences, Russia sought
increased understanding. Government and congressional ties could
achieve a more positive agenda. Ryabkov said that Moscow was not
simply "reflecting" on the relationship in advance of the change of
U.S. administration, but continuing to engage, whether on piracy and
the Middle East peace process, or CFE negotiations in Geneva on
December 17. As the new administration settled into place, Ryabkov
predicted that the level of engagement would only intensify.

3. (SBU) In response to the Members' emphasis on the importance of
U.S.-Russian relations, the need to restore trust and move forward
on overlapping strategic interests, and their reaffirmation of U.S.
intent to counter an Iranian nuclear threat, but hope that Russia
could be a partner in missile defense, Ryabkov reiterated that the
prospect of closer U.S.-Russian relations was "very attractive to
everyone here," while conceding that anti-Americanism had grown over
the last several years. Ryabkov reiterated that Russia's ability to
project power and play a responsible role would in part be defined
by its relationship with the U.S. Nevertheless, the negative
mindset of the Russian public would be difficult to transform, with
issues like NATO enlargement negatively influencing overall Russian
attitudes to the U.S. Ryabkov charged that the U.S. had acted in a
way that neglected or ignored Russian core interests over the years,
with the result that trust had eroded.

Iran: Bold U.S. Initiative Required

4. (SBU) While reiterating Russian opposition to a nuclear Iran
and the leadership's "tremendous efforts" to persuade Tehran to meet
its international obligations, Ryabkov argued that Iran has "less
than zero" confidence in the U.S. Similarly, the U.S. had no faith
in the Iranian regime, underscoring the need for greater
transparency and engagement between the two. Acknowledging that
engagement was no panacea, Ryabkov noted the historically complex
relations, but urged renewed American leadership in reaching out to
Tehran. "Bold openings" by the President-elect could change the
calculus, he argued, and tap into those elements of the leadership
looking for a different paradigm of engagement. Ryabkov underscored
Russian opposition to further sanctions, repeating that it
consolidated public support behind the regime, and allowed Tehran to
play on anti-U.S. and -Israeli sentiment. Russia did not accept
that economic sanctions produced positive political change.
"Psychological traits and national providence" produced a further
rallying around the leaders, whenever Iran was cornered. Further
deadlock would be the outcome. The Ambassador interjected that if
Russia believed sanctions were a dead end, it should propose
alternate strategies to preclude the emergence of a nuclear Iran.
Ryabkov took the point and suggested that Russia would offer a food
for thought paper.

5. (SBU) Ryabkov judged that the P5+1 proposal was still relevant
and welcomed a possible mid-level meeting before the December
holidays. Acknowledging that the Iranians could "replay their
melodies" while waiting for the next administration, Ryabkov argued
again for a "bold move" and urged that engagement with Iran on a
variety of regional issues be held out, if the leadership
demonstrated it was serious about a freeze-for-a-freeze. Ryabkov
noted that Russia constantly stressed engagement over sanctions,

MOSCOW 00003728 002 OF 002

because the latter were constantly "mis- and over-interpreted."
Noting the "extraordinary speculation" prompted by UNSCR 1835,
Ryabkov concluded that there was no alternative to engagement with
the Supreme Leader and Ahmedinejad. Ryabkov urged the offer of a
"reasonable alternative" to the development of enrichment
capabilities, commenting that there was still no proof of advanced
missile technology. While Tehran trumpeted its missile
achievements, the statements were aimed at a domestic audience. The
Iranians underestimated the extent to which their statements
solidified U.S. and European opinions, with Ryabkov reiterating that
Iranian boasts were designed to show a domestic audience that the
country was advancing.

Missile Defense: The Great Disconnect

6. (SBU) Ryabkov stressed the "great disconnect" in perceptions
over what missile defense represents, the threat it targeted, and
the means for resolving the dispute. He underscored that missile
defense changed the security environment in Russia's neighborhood
and listed Russian concerns: the GOR could not be certain of future
enhancements, remained unhappy with "the geography chosen," was "not
ready to be satisfied" by the transparency and confidence building
measures offered, which were weaker than those first proposed during
the October 2007 2+2 meeting, and did not believe that this was just
about Iran. The absence of trust in U.S.-Russian relations
intensified the belief that the increasing strands of U.S. missile
defense activity "visible in many regions" would lead to a "very
different configuration" in the future.

7. (SBU) Ryabkov said there was no easy antidote to the standoff.
The U.S. had engaged in "fait accompli" policymaking over the last
years and had wasted opportunities to engage with Russia. If that
trend continued, he warned, trust and confidence in the U.S. would
worsen. Ryabkov acknowledged without elaboration the perception
that Russian behavior had also worsened, pushing again for "early
and frequent" engagement. While the extraordinary was not
achievable just by leaders meeting or experts negotiating, Ryabkov
urged rejuvenation of a process that would move both countries away
from a legacy of "mistrust and mutual discomfort."

What Next Under the Obama Administration?

8. (SBU) Ryabkov polled the Representatives for their views on
what Russia should anticipate under the next administration, noting
his personal belief that any policy changes would be evolutionary,
the result of "adding and subtracting," with "total change not
possible." While the Representatives underscored that the U.S.
strategic objective of preventing Iran from becoming nuclear power
would not change, they suggested a change in tone, a greater use of
soft power, a willingness to listen, an interest in reengagement
with Russia, and a move away from foreign policy fait accompli
should be expected. Ryabkov welcomed the advice, ranging from "be
very optimistic" to "don't be overly optimistic, but optimistic
nonetheless," adding that more dialogue would produce the greater
confidence required to generate the reasonable solutions to the
challenges on the U.S.-Russian agenda.

9. (SBU) The delegation cleared this message.


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