The White House blandly depicted the telephone conversation between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday, May 13, as producing agreement to step up moves for new sanctions against Iran over its suspect nuclear program. In their wide-ranging exchange, they were said to have noted "good progress and "agreed to instruct their negotiators to intensify their efforts to reach a conclusion as soon as possible."
While the Iranian issue was certainly broached, Obama and Medvedev's conversation was far from bland and its wide range covered a minefield.
A high-placed Washington source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that Obama took Medvedev to task and told him he must rein in Syrian President Bashar Assad to save the Middle East from an imminent full-scale war.
The US president was prompted by an intelligence update reaching him shortly before the phone call, in which the watchers tracking the flow of smuggled Syrian weapons into Lebanon had spotted Scud missiles moving across the Syrian-Lebanese border into Hizballah hands – in defiance of ominous US and Israeli warnings.
Damascus had been tipped off by Moscow that America and Israel would take no action, provided the transfers went forward slowly and only a few at a time.
Yet Medvedev, who had just returned from Damascus, promised to comply with Obama's request.
What promises? Moscow is grinding its own axe
But instead, Moscow delivered a shocker. Just a few hours later, Friday morning, May 14. Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of Russia's Federal Agency for Military Cooperation, announced the sale to Syria of MiG-29 fighter jets, Pantsyr short-range air defense systems and armored vehicles.
He did not say exactly when the transaction was signed, suggesting only that it was finalized during Medvedev's visit to Damascus the week before.
President Obama and his senior advisors were forced to acknowledge finally that Moscow's sole motive now was to grind its own axe, just for starters in Iran and Syria. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly reporting in this issue and on May 14: Russia Tries to Push US aside on Iran).
Washington would therefore be well advised to discount Russian leaders' promises, including support for tough sanctions against Iran. And rather than curbing Assad, the Kremlin was acting to boost him with a fresh injection of arms and backing for his anti-American tactics.
The negative messages from Moscow coincided with a White House re-evaluation of the president's "grand bargain" policy which made a point of treating Moscow as nuclear friend and partner and a willingness to revive the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement shelved two years ago by his predecessor George W. Bush to protest Russia's conflict with Georgia.
White House analysts came up with a grimly unequivocal diagnosis, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources disclose: The president's year-old policy of fair cooperation with Russia was counter-productive – if not downright damaging.
Clobbering the US with its own diplomatic initiatives
Moscow was found to be using the Obama administration's diplomatic initiatives as hammers to clobber US interests in the Middle East as well as the Caspian and Central Asian countries. Its activities for disrupting those interests in such places as Syria and Iran were described as comparable in intensity to the Cold War campaigns of the Soviet era in the 1970s.
In Iran, for instance, Moscow had cynically exploited the US president's quest for succor and support for harsh UN sanctions against Iran as a tool for rendering those sanctions toothless and of no use for curbing Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon.
The Russian president was caught putting on a big show to disguise his complicity in the maneuver hatched by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva "Lula" and Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan which produced the deal Monday, May 18, for Iran to send some enriched uranium to Turkey in return for fuel rods for "medical research."
The show began when Medvedev told Lula who had stopped over in Moscow on his way to Tehran, "The president of Brazil is an optimist, so I'll be an optimist, too. I give him 30 percent chance of success."
From the start, this deal was a secret conspiracy hatched with Iran behind America's back during the Russian president's visit to Damascus, whereby Brazil and Turkey would clinch a deal for de-activating the US drive for tough sanctions capable of stalling Tehran's progress towards its nuclear objectives.
One high-ranking US official commented: "The beauty of the stunt is that the Russians didn't leave any detectable fingerprints, even though they pushed for it as hard as they could."
Moscow quietly shapes a new anti-American world bloc
While holding back S-300 interceptor missiles for warding off potential US or Israel strikes against Iran's nuclear sites – as Putin personally promised Washington – Russia has resumed training of Iranian teams in their operation. (See HOT POINTS of May 19, below).
Russia's drive for influence and gain goes well beyond diplomacy, according to the new White House assessment. While in Damascus and Ankara, Medvedev also dealt with Russia's push to expand its control of the oil and gas pipelines from Iran and the Central Asian countries to Europe in a takeover of American holdings.
Last November, the Russian pipeline builder OAO Stroytransgaz completed the first part of the Syrian section of a gas pipeline from Egypt across Jordan with a branch running into Turkey.
Shortly before his visit to Syria, the Russian president told the Syrian newspaper Al Watan in an interview that Russian firms were also interested in participating in the construction of an oil refinery in the northern Syrian city Deir Ez-Zor, and also in reconstructing an oil pipeline from the Kirkuk oil field in northern Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias.
In other words, Moscow is getting ready to assume a controlling share in the huge Iraqi oil export industry as soon as American forces pull out of the country.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington, Obama's analysts have picked up on Russia's grand design to foster a new grouping of Middle East and South American nations, such as Brazil, Turkey, Iran and Syria, with Iraq eventually attached – or rather swallowed up.
Nuclear proliferation, terror sponsorship are no object
In contrast to the non-aligned bloc of the old Cold War days, this one has rich economic potential, gathering in two of the world's biggest oil exporters, Iran and Iraq, and cultivating their dependence on Russia's technological, nuclear and military capabilities.
This new alignment of world nations would be pro-Russian and anti-American in character.
In pursuit of this goal, Russia is not only prepared to let Syria have sophisticated weapons. Medvedev also promised Assad a nuclear reactor, despite its record of non-cooperation with the nuclear watchdog, and signed deals for building $24 billion dollars-worth of nuclear plants in Turkey too.
Russia's partnership with America for containing nuclear proliferation is therefore one more show as Moscow lets Iran get away with triggering a Middle East nuclear arms race and helping it spread like fungus into southern Europe and Central Asia.
Sponsorship of jihadi terrorism is no bar to its plans, as the Russian president demonstrated by acceding to the Syrian president's request for a meeting with the Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus.
That marked the end of cooperation with America in combating global terror.
This week, administration leaders are quoted by our sources in Washington as commenting with glum resignation that they see no way at this juncture of averting the emergence of a new Cold War between the United States and Russia under the incumbent governments.
"The die is cast," said one very senior US official. "Although we can't say so in public, all our policies and efforts must now be ruled by the ongoing battle of interests between Washington and Moscow.