The US bid to promote a fourth round of sanctions may get lost amid sharp dispute over Russian military action in Georgia.
Fierce American criticism of Russia's military action in Georgia is almost certain to jeopardize a very different US strategic objective: stepping up pressure on Iran with another layer of United Nations sanctions.
As builders of Iran's $800 million nuclear power reactor, Russia has long resisted imposing sanctions to halt Iran's program, which the US says is a cover to make an atomic bomb. Washington has convinced Moscow to support three previous sets of Security Council sanctions.
But US efforts to launch a fourth set of sanctions – begun last week, as Iran all but ignored a US-European deadline on a nuclear deal – may get lost in the shrill US-Russian tussle in the Caucasus.
"This will make any hope of cooperative effort on Iran much more difficult," says Michael McFaul, a Russia and Iran expert at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Support on Iran, he says, is "without question" the biggest strategic casualty of the renewed US-Russia tension.
Iran is "the last serious issue where the Bush administration has decisions to make in terms of changing policy," says Mr. McFaul. It is also "the one place … of high national security interest to the United States where Russia plays a direct role in what we are trying to do. In that sense, it towers over all these other things."
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