Two weeks ago, Iran’s defense minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan said his country is planning to sign a contract with Russia to purchase Sukhoi-30 fighter jets. The Sukhoi Su-30 is a twin-engine, two-seat super-maneuverable, fighter aircraft for all-weather, air-to-air and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions. Dehghan did not say how many fighter planes Iran will buy, or when exactly, but just having announced the deal he kicked in a complicated process involving more than just the buyer—the Islamic Revolution and the seller—the post-Revolution Russian government.
According to UNSCR 2231 on the nuclear program of Iran, which set out a strict watching process and schedule for performance, while paving the plan for the lifting of United Nations restrictions against Iran, the fighter jet sale has to go through the Security Council, meaning the US may veto it.
At Thursday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked Secretary of State John Kerry whether the US intends to veto the sale.
Kerry refused to commit to a veto.
It went like this:
Sherman: … under the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, Russia can’t sell fighter planes to Iran unless the Security Council specifically approves that. I’ll ask you, will we use our veto to prevent fighter planes from being sold to Iran from Russia?
Kerry: Well, I don’t think you have to use a veto. I think it’s a matter of a committee. There’s a committee and it’s in approval in the committee, but we would not approve it.
Sherman: And would we use our veto if necessary to prevent the sale?
Kerry: To the best of my knowledge, Congressman, I don’t, I haven’t looked at the specifics of the transaction, etc. In principle, we are very concerned about the transfer of weapons and so, you know, we would approach it with great skepticism. But I haven’t seen the specific transfer or what the request is. We have a committee that will analyze this thoroughly before anything happens and the committee signs off on it, I assure you. We’ll stay in touch with you.
The Sukhoi sale was first announced on Feb. 10 — ample time for Kerry to be briefed on every last possible known aspect of it. Why was the secretary dodging the question?
The White House is either seriously inept on this front, or it seriously wants the sale to come through. On Feb 18, more than a week after the news first broke, and after a strange string of announcements denying the US could veto the deal, or that the deal was actually illegal, the State Department finally admitted the sale would be illegal under UNSCR 2231, and the Obama administration has the authority to veto the sale.
Some in Washington are saying the White House is looking to fool Congress on the Sukhoi sale the same way it did the nuclear negotiations. As Omri Ceren of The Israel Project put it in an email Thursday: “Administration officials would routinely brush off questions about specific concessions by declaring that the entire package was made up of moving parts that all had to fit together, so nothing was final until everything was final. Then when all the details were finalized, the entire package was presented to Congress as a fait accompli: lawmakers were told that the deal couldn’t be reopened and that rejecting it would lead to war.”
The Sukhoi Su-30 deal is definitely bad for Israel, especially should Iran choose to place a wing of those in Syria. It could change the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah, which has already been eroding with the Russians’ heavy presence in the area. If ever there were a deal that needed killing, and fast, it’s this one.