Sine wave between Russia and US will stay in the past - Sergey Ryabkov

US-Russian relations this year have been dominated by talks over a new arms reduction treaty, and Iran's nuclear ambitions. RT discussed these issues with Sergey Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister.

RT: Russia’s relations with the US have traditionally developed like a sine wave. What should we do to avoid such big ups and downs, what do we need to reach stability?

Sergey Ryabkov: You know a sine wave is a dynamic wave that can describe many different things in politics and society. But it is not and cannot be consistently present in our relations with the US. Yes, the past tells us that this is how we have been going for many years and decades – up and down, like a swing. We may experience something similar in the future. But I would like to emphasize that from a political standpoint we have every reason to believe that it is possible to take relations on a steady movement upward. It has been almost a year since Obama came to power, and this year confirmed that at least the tone of relations has changed. And there have been results.

RT: And what prevents relations between the two becoming stable? What are the main obstacles?

SR: Stereotypes really get in the way. In the US, many see Russia as the heir of the Soviet Union – from the viewpoint of certain political aspirations, which in my opinion, are in the past. Some difficulties arise due to the fact that officials and political elites have a distorted view of each other. This is partly true of our country. I am not going to lie here. But the Russian President, the government are united in their opinion that it is to our benefit to strengthen partnership with the USA, to work pragmatically on the basis of a balanced approach to a very complicated agenda which exists in our relations. And in that case, I am convinced this sine wave will stay in the past.

RT: Let’s talk about the START treaty. In the recent interview President Dmitry Medvedev said that every detail of the treaty – up until the last comma – should be agreed with the US. Some claim that the main controversy is about tracking Topol-M missiles and submarines. Is that true?

SR: I support the classic approach to any negotiations – "Nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon". Almost everything that separated the sides at the time when the talks began has now been worked through. The sides have been able to balance their interests, which is reflected in the text of the agreement. There are several issues… I would not single out the issue of delivery vehicles that you mentioned, although I will admit during the whole process of talks it has been a major issue. Now the main themes are a little different. Our leaders say that these are more technical things that are being discussed. They can be solved in a very short period of time.

RT: And what is the difference between the new START from its predecessors?

SR: The agreement that we are working on at the moment is the first agreement of this sort in the history of the Russian Federation. It is no secret that SORT was a lot simpler from the standpoint of its provisions, if we compare them with the agreement which expired at 11:59pm on December 4th. The new agreement will be based on the mutual balance of interests. It is free from the expensive elements of the verification regime, present in the previous agreement. The old agreement was rooted in the Cold War. But now we have reached a completely different level of trust and mutual understanding. Moscow and Washington are not as suspicious of each other. All of this is now being transferred into the agreement. We will have a serious document, promoting disarmament. But at the same time it is not as cumbersome and difficult in terms of implementation as the previous agreement. It is going to be something completely new in the area of disarmament.

RT: In 2010 the US plans to campaign for a new round of sanctions against Iran. Will Russia support those sanctions if for instance Iran refuses to cooperate with IAEA?

SR: We are still convinced that the only realistic way of solving the Iran nuclear problem is the political and diplomatic settlement of widely-known problems which have gone unsolved for a really long time. But there is no alternative; we just need to continue to search for formulas acceptable to both Iran and the international community. As far as the sanctions go, Russia has always been for the so called two-track approach. The Russian President has spoken on the issue several times, confirming our position – usually sanctions don't work, but at some point they may become inevitable. There is certain irony in that, but we have to state that in the process of trying to solve the problem, a number of our partners have brought up the sanctions issue. We have to consider them, even though, as I said already, we have serious doubts about sanctions being effective. And we are deeply convinced that only a political process, dialogue, can bring about the desired outcome.

RT: So Russia believes in the sincerity of Tehran’s intentions?

SR: Tehran is a difficult partner for the six countries, it is a well-known fact. But for Russia it is a close neighbor, a friendly state with many centuries of close ties. Russian-Iranian relations have gone through different periods. There were times when these relations were far from being good. But that's true of any country. We should focus on the things that are stable in our relations. We have great co-operation in regional affairs. We have serious economic ties. We cannot dismiss that, we treasure that. And we need to constantly remind our partners, including our Western partners, that there are certain aspects of the Russian-Iranian partnership that cannot be dismissed, and we are not going to do that.

RT: Iran was offered an opportunity to process low-enriched Uranium abroad. Why do you think Tehran turned it down flat?

SR: First of all, Tehran did not refuse – they just did not say they were ready to follow the system proposed by the IAEA after the failure of consultations, where Russia was one of the participants. Secondly, we still think that it is not too late. There is still time, and we call on our Iranian friends to focus on the positive aspect of the proposed scheme. As a result, they will be able to move forward in other areas of the nuclear program settlement. And thirdly, we hope that our partners will not stop trying to find common grounds on the issue. Russia continues to work in this direction.

RT: Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry recently claimed that Iran’s ultimate goal is to produce Atomic weapons within a month. Do you believe that forecast? How dangerous is Iranian nuclear program?

SR: Despite all my respect for him, I cannot agree with that. We have no reason to believe that Iran plans to move in this direction. Although I will be honest with you – we have concerns about the research that is possibly going on. This has been reflected many times in IAEA documents and reports. IAEA representatives discussed the issues with Iranian officials. The sooner these questions are answered the sooner the international community will be able to trust Iran and its claims about the peaceful nature of their nuclear program. But we cannot agree with the speculation of those who say that Iran will have nuclear weapons in several months or years. Nuclear weapons are a very complicated set of technological developments. Without serious proof that this is really taking place it is irresponsible to pose such accusations.

RT: Apart from economic sanctions, Iran has been permanently threatened with a possible air-attack by Israeli forces. Could this play a negative role and influence around the decision to stand firm on its nuclear program?

SR: Any time force is applied in the Middle East, there are grave results. We call on our Israeli friends to handle the situation responsibly. Of course we know that Israel is concerned about the difficulties the international community faces trying to work with Tehran on its nuclear program. But in any case, I don't see any reason to start thinking about using force. It is obvious to us that this would be catastrophic. We need to have a balanced and highly responsible approach. I think in the coming year we will have opportunities to make progress in finding a political solution to the Iranian nuclear problem. It is partly true that negotiations reached a dead end, because of such threats. Of course, our Iranian friends are not thrilled that Israel keeps mentioning it.

RT: The G8 has often been criticized for its ineffectiveness. Many say the number of members of the summit should be increased. What do you think of this proposal? What are the pros and cons?

SR: The G8 is evolving already. This process is related to the formation of the G20, where global economic, financial and other problems are discussed. It is a healthy natural process, connected with the change in the world moving towards a polycentric model. New influential centers are being formed, rapidly developing economies now have a say on the political arena. So G8 now has a somewhat different political and economic position than 10 years ago for example. But we don't know yet how the G20 will evolve and what it will turn into. The G20 appeared as a means of dealing with the international financial crisis. The crisis is slowly passing, and we will have to see if this format will be needed. But the G8 is still valuable as a mechanism of informal comparison of strands and coordination on many issues in the area of politics, security, counteracting new challenges, such as piracy. The G8 has its own way of working with different countries. The fact that the G8 is changing is not its weakness, but its strength. This year Canada will chair, and we expect to see a new creative approach to different things, including co-operation between the G8 and the G20. This year's G8 and G20 meetings will be back to back, which is a good new initiative.