Cablegate: Hfac Chairman Berman Meets Fm Lavrov: U.S., Iran,

O 160753Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: In an October 14 meeting with HFAC
Chairman Berman and the Ambassador, FM Lavrov argued against
holding U.S.-Russian relations hostage to ideology and
politics, reaffirming the Sochi Declaration commitments. He
pushed hard for continued diplomacy with Iran, criticizing
unilateral U.S. sanctions as "spoilers," warning with respect
to Israel that any use of force would be catastrophic, and
confirming that no decision had been made on a S-300
transfer. Lavrov proposed increased information-sharing on
Pakistan, and a CSTO/NATO division of labor in
counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. He stressed that
Medvedev's proposed European defense treaty was not aimed at
replacing existing institutions, but addressed the shortfalls
of NATO-Russia Council and other architecture that did not
provide for "indivisible" security. Saying Russia did not
prefer to extend START, Lavrov reprised Russian complaints on
U.S. negotiations over post-START, missile defense, and CFE.
Given Russian concern over U.S. intentions, Lavrov
underscored the need for arms control and further confidence
building measures. End Summary

U.S.-Russian Relations Hostage to Ideology

2. (SBU) In an October 14 meeting with HFAC Chairman Howard
Berman (D, CA), HFAC staff, and the Ambassador, FM Lavrov
welcomed regular parliamentary consultations as an important
element of the bilateral relationship. In response to
Chairman Berman's assessment that Russia was an indispensable
partner, whose significance had been overshadowed by the
post-9/11 focus in U.S. foreign policy, Lavrov commented that
Russia's absence from domestic U.S. political debates had not
necessarily been bad, but acknowledged that the circumstances
driving renewed U.S. attention were not favorable. Russia,
he stressed, had welcomed the April 2008 Sochi Declaration as
an important legacy of President Bush and Putin, with its
emphasis on mutual respect, mutual interests, and commitment
to minimizing differences and searching for common solutions.
Lavrov underscored the scope of the U.S.-Russia interests,
with issues of strategic balance (post-START,
nonproliferation, WMD) and regional stability (Iran, DPRK,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East) crowding the
agenda. U.S.-Russian cooperation, he argued, should not be
"hostage to politicized and ideologized issues."

Iran: Russia Prepared to Cooperate Diplomatically
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) Saying he fully shared Chairman Berman's concern
over Iran, Lavrov agreed that a more effective international
coalition was required, but disagreed on whether Iran was
intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, versus mastering the
nuclear fuel cycle. Lavrov argued that unilateral U.S.
sanctions had undercut P5 1 diplomatic efforts, which should
remain focused on supporting the IAEA presence in Iran and
its resolution of outstanding questions related to the
Iranian nuclear program. Reaffirming Russian support for a
two-track approach, with incentives for Iran to negotiate
coupled with UNSCR sanctions to increase pressure on the
Iranian leadership to respond, Lavrov complained that U.S.
actions constituted "spoilers" that gave Iran a pretext to
walk away from the table. The U.S. continued to send a mixed
message, allowing Iran to conclude that its real goal was the
isolation and overthrow of the Iranian leadership. Chairman
Berman underscored Iran's failure to answer outstanding IAEA
questions and the NIE's evidence of a nuclear program in
existence until 2003. Once Congress was confident that an
effective international strategy was in place, Chairman
Berman stressed, there would be no need for unilateral
measures; instead, Iran appeared to be playing for time.

4. (SBU) Referencing a "Financial Times" article, Lavrov
expressed concern over rumors that the U.S. and UK were
building a coalition of countries to adopt stronger sanctions
in the energy and industrial sectors, in an effort to
circumvent Russian and Chinese interest in a more gradual
process. Lavrov commented that the U.S. needed to decide
whether it sought to circumvent Russia, or seek to work with
it collectively; it could not do both. Russian policy, he
stressed, was not a function of pique over U.S. actions to
isolate Russia after the Georgia crisis or in response to the
U.S. cancellation of military exercises; rather, Russia
remained opposed to Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. Russia
saw no reason for precipitate action based on the last IAEA
report, and believed diplomacy had not run its course.
Lavrov added that the outstanding IAEA questions were derived
from U.S. intelligence, which other analysts had found
unpersuasive in 2005; while Russia took U.S. allegations
seriously, the inability to provide originals of the
documents allowed Iran to disclaim ownership or culpability.
Lavrov conceded that the Iranians were frustrating, calling
them tough and cagey negotiators, but reiterated Russian
support for the IAEA-led process.

5. (SBU) Asserting that Iran had been on the verge of
coming back to the bargaining table in August, Lavrov said
Saakashvili gave Tehran a perfect gift. The Iranians
hardened their position, waiting to see if Russia would split
with Europe, or reduce pressure on Iran in "revenge" for
European and U.S. criticism of Russian actions in Georgia.
In order to prevent that miscalculation, Lavrov said it was
Russia's idea for a UNSC resolution at UNGA. Lavrov said
Russia would remain absolutely clear about its strategic goal
of denying Iran a nuclear weapon, but acknowledged that
tactical differences would remain on how to move forward.
Russia did not want "a degeneration into a repeat of Iraq"
and, referencing on-going discussions between PM Olmert and
Washington, warned that any use of force would be
"catastrophic." Gulf states, he noted, feared an Iran with a
nuclear bomb, and an Iran bombed.

6. (SBU) In response to Chairman Berman's push for tougher
sanctions as the best option, Lavrov warned that the
international community risked losing the IAEA "eyes and
ears" on the ground. While the number of centrifuges were
increasing, they were not increasing as quickly as Iran had
the capacity, nor were they running at optimal speed. Some
flexibility on the part of the U.S. would help call Iran's
bluff; the U.S. should demonstrate the same creativity that
it had evinced with the DPRK (even at the risk of "driving
Japan crazy and provoking public criticism"). The lesson
Iran learned is that it needed a nuclear bomb to be treated
respectfully by the U.S. The issues with Iran were so
complex, Lavrov complained, that it was hard to explain to
the layman; for instance, while Iran had not signed an
Additional Protocol, it was not mandatory and in certain
instances Iran had exceeded AP requirements.

Iran: S-300 Sales

7. (SBU) In response to Chairman Berman's strong concern
over the possibility of a Russian transfer of S-300s to Iran,
Lavrov stated carefully that Russia would consider any arms
transfer on the basis of full transparency, full compliance
with its international commitments, and in accordance with
Russian export controls, which strictly regulated against any
transfer that could have a destabilizing regional effect.
The S-300s were a defensive system, albeit "efficient."
Lavrov confirmed that no decision had been made. In a dig at
U.S. arms transfers to Taiwan, Lavrov offered that there
should be a "pause" to think about arms sales in the broader
context. Russia did not seek the militarization of foreign
policy and did not need a new arms race. Mutual agreement
and mutual restraint were the best tools for establishing
parity, although Lavrov noted the economically beneficial
side-effects of military investments.

Afghanistan/Pakistan: More, not less, cooperation required
--------------------------------------------- -------------

8. (SBU) Lavrov commented that Russia wanted international
security forces, with NATO as its backbone, to succeed in
Afghanistan. Key to the effort would be combating the
narcotics trade, and Lavrov complained about the
unwillingness of NATO forces to strengthen their
anti-trafficking mandate. NATO members were reluctant to
expand their mandate, he charged, because it was dangerous
work. Russia was directly affected by the increasing flows
of narcotics through Central Asia and Russia to Europe;
increasingly, Russia was a recipient, as well as a transit,
state. Lavrov reviewed Russian efforts to collaborate with
Central Asian countries, in concert with NATO efforts inside
Afghanistan (alluding to, but not spelling out, a division of
labor between CSTO and NATO), and regretted that NATO had not
responded institutionally, although individual countries
participated in CSTO's Operation Channel.

9. (SBU) Commenting that Afghanistan had to be considered
in tandem with Pakistan, Lavrov noted Russian efforts as G8
chair to include Afghanistan and Pakistan in a dialogue.
While Japan had not continued the initiative, Lavrov argued
that it was something the G8 should consider. Lavrov
stressed that Russia wanted to better understand the U.S.
strategy towards Pakistan, as well as its assessment of the
country's stability, leadership, and divisions within the
military and intelligence communities. Whether in existing
dialogue formats (e.g., CTWG or intel channels) there needed
to be better coordination. Lavrov argued that current
tensions should not get in the way of collective efforts to
address challenges like Pakistan.

Security: European, NATO, post-START, MD, CFE

10. (SBU) Paraphrasing Secretary Paulson's remarks on the
financial crisis, Lavrov stressed that no country should
secure itself at the expense of others, noting this was the
overriding theme of President Medvedev's October 8 Evian
speech. Lavrov evinced frustration over western
interpretations of Medvedev's call for a new European
security treaty. Medvedev, he stressed, did not seek to
undermine or replace any existing Euro-Atlantic institution,
whether NATO, OSCE, or the EU, nor did Russia seek to exclude
the U.S. and Canada from this security discussion. Instead,
Russia sought a comprehensive review of Euro-Atlantic
security, with all of the member states and representatives
of the European and post-Soviet organizations (e.g. CSTO,
CIS). The principles of NATO and OSCE were sound, he added
later, but were not working. NATO had failed to uphold the
indivisibility of security, with the NATO-Russia Council
having evolved into 26 versus one. While Russia had no
ready-made solutions, it wanted to discuss specifics. What
Putin had expressed emotionally in Munich in February 2007,
Medvedev had expressed diplomatically.

11. (SBU) Lavrov highlighted the uncertain fate of
post-START, arguing that the U.S. had not met its commitment
under the Sochi Declaration to intensify a dialogue on a
successor arms control regime. While Russia continued to
wait for a U.S. paper, first promised in October 2007, the
U.S. position remained unyielding: no limits, except on
operationally deployed warheads; unlimited stockpiles and
launchers; and the introduction of non-nuclear warheads on
strategic delivery systems. While it was unrealistic to
expect any breakthrough in the remaining weeks of the
Administration, Lavrov did not evince interest in an
extension of the START treaty. Saying that he had doubts
about the feasibility of an extension, Lavrov said Russia
preferred to use the time remaining to negotiate differences
in approach. Acknowledging the challenges facing a new
administration in confirming key officials, Lavrov
nonetheless said that Russia "very strongly preferred to
write something new" and noted there was "no lack of inputs"
from former officials and the arms control community.

12. (SBU) On missile defense, Lavrov expressed regret that
the U.S. was moving forward with implementation, while
promises to Russia were "hanging." Lavrov said Russia
continued to wait for answers to its questions presented in
August, and criticized the U.S. for walking back the proposal
of a "permanent presence" by Russian liaison officers at the
Czech and Polish sites, which was first presented during the
October 2007 2 2 meeting. Russia had been told to talk
directly with the Poles and Czechs, who offered "occasional
visits" on a "reciprocal" basis. Questioning the concept of
reciprocity, Lavrov termed the debate "a mess."

13. (SBU) Lavrov also complained that "interesting
proposals" on CFE, first presented in 2007, were "modified
and backtracked." While the U.S. sought to keep CFE in
bilateral negotiating channels, Lavrov questioned the halt in
discussions post-Georgia; while Russian troops stationed in
South Ossetia and Abkhazia made the negotiations "more
complicated," real discussions were required. In the current
security environment, Russia could not ignore new "bases" in
Romania and Bulgaria or the presence of the U.S. navy in the
Black Sea. In response to Chairman Berman's questioning of
Russian threat assessments, Lavrov insisted that the Russian
military "should be fired" if they didn't take NATO's
expansion and U.S. unilateral actions seriously. "Not for
nothing" had CBMs and arms control regimes been developed in
the past. Lavrov emphasized that U.S. actions were viewed as
threatening, pointing to "some in D.C." who sought to modify
the Montreaux Convention in order to drop limits on the
access of non-littoral states. "Non-confidence is building
up," he argued, adding that Russian concerns over U.S. arms
sales to Georgia had been brushed aside, with the Secretary
undertaking that any use of force by Saakashvili would negate
Georgia's NATO aspirations.

14. (SBU) The delegation cleared this message.


End Cable Text

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