In step with US calls for greater international pressure on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Moscow to rally support for a new round of sanctions.
The two-day visit will see Netanyahu discuss Iran's enrichment program, which Israel is trying to portray as a mortal threat against it, in closed-door talks with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
On February 8, Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post on conditions of anonymity that Netanyahu will have a hard time wooing the Russians, who are helping Iran build a nuclear reactor in the southern city of Bushehr and have so far appeared reluctant in imposing sanctions on the country.
This is Netanyahu's first official visit to Moscow as Prime Minister. Earlier in September, he paid a secret trip to Russia which lasted less than 24 hours.
The trip comes amid intense efforts by the US to globally isolate the Tehran government by means of threats and hard-hitting sanctions.
In late January, the US Senate passed S2799 — the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2009 — which allows US President Barack Obama to punish any entity that ships gasoline or heating oil to Iran.
The legislation which would negatively impact ordinary people in Iran is supposedly designed to pressure Tehran into halting its nuclear activities by choking off the country's entire oil and natural gas industry.
This comes as the US House of Representatives had in December passed a similar bill, called the "Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009," which also targets the country's gas and energy sector.
While the two legislations won attention and applause from pro-Israeli lobbies in the US, they were also met with the reluctance and reservation of some administration officials.
In a December letter to Senator John Kerry, who is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vocal advocate of more sanctions on Iran, Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg voiced serious concern over the sanctions bill.
According to Steinberg, the legislation in its current form would prove to be counter productive.
“We have serious substantive concerns, including the lack of flexibility, inefficient monetary thresholds and penalty levels, and blacklisting that could cause unintended foreign policy consequences,” he noted.
Other senior US officials have also said on condition of anonymity that they are opposed to the legislation as it may hurt the Iranian people in the worst possible way.
Notwithstanding these calls, Washington has move ahead with planned targeted sanctions against Iran, particularly after the country started enriching uranium to a level of 20 percent after potential suppliers failed to provide fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
The Tehran research, which is of vital importance as it produces medical isotopes for cancer patients, is soon to run out of fuel. In light of this, Iran had requested that the UN nuclear watchdog arrange for the supplying of the fuel to the country.
The West has been pressuring Iran to accept a draft deal, which requires Iran to send most of its domestically-produced low enriched uranium abroad for conversion into the more refined fuel that the Tehran research reactor requires to produce medical isotopes.
Iran says it will not accept the deal unless its concerns are taken into consideration — a request that has been rejected by Western countries, particularly the US which has prepared a new slate of sanctions resolutions against Iran.
The targeted sanctions assembled by the US include adding more Iranian officials to a travel ban list, imposing an interdiction on arms import, enlarging an asset freeze to target more Iranian companies, and last but not least, blacklisting the central bank and a number of other big banks.
Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, economic sanctions have played a key role in Washington's approach towards the Tehran government.
But Tehran government officials have had no qualms about the prospect of tougher economic measures, saying that while sanctions have hurt the Iranian people in part, they have also helped the country to achieve independence and self-sufficiency in various fields of economy, science and technology.