The Administration struggled to moderate its response to Iran’s belated and belittling reaction to the proposal put forward by the U.S. and other major powers for a cessation of Tehran’s uranium enrichment activities in return for direct talks with the US and a series of other incentives.

This came months after what some viewed as a major concession by the Administration to agree to talk to Tehran one-on-one at all (I happen not to view that as much of a concession at all, in that it was conditioned on a foreordained outcome for such talks – he’s my take on the wisdom of direct talks more broadly).

The restraint, at least in the immediate term, appears not to have paid off. The hope was that by showing patience, consulting with others, and treating Tehran with greater respect, Washington could hold together a coalition behind sanctions in the event that the positive treatment failed to induce Tehran’s cooperation.

But now Russia is saying they believe sanctions would be “premature.”

The posture is frustrating: Moscow had previously signaled that it would maintain unity with the international community to respond forcefully to a refusal by Tehran to abide by the terms of a UN Security Council resolution demanding suspension of enrichment activities. This will reinforce claims by unilateralists that even when the US plays ball with other powers, those others cannot be trusted to stick to the rules. It will likely also reinforce calls for a potential military response to Iranian proliferation, on the basis that aq tough-minded diplomatic solution is proving elusive.

Where the Russians have a point, though, is that sanctions tend not to work well, calling into question what could be accomplished by trying to cut off Iran. Recent sanction regimes, including most notably Iraq’s, have pinched ordinary citizens harder than they have rogue regimes.

The real question here is how premature is premature – are the Russians saying a few more go-rounds should be tried before the Security Council gets tough (and that “getting tough” needs to mean something more than sanctions liable to boomerang), or do they want endless rounds of diplomatic spinning while Iran’s centrifuges continue to rotate?

UPDATE: Thanks to commenters who pointed out I had written Baghdad originally instead of Tehran ? not used to this daytime blogging!

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