Former aides to President Bush and Vice President Cheney are warning their successors in the Obama administration to be wary of Russian pledges of cooperation in the multilateral campaign to rein in Iran's nuclear program.
The warnings came after FOX News reported on Thursday that top Obama aides believe Russia will be willing to sign on to "much more severe" sanctions against Iran if the Islamic republic refuses to halt its uranium enrichment activity by 2010.
A senior U.S. official serving under Obama told FOX News Moscow's new openness to tough sanctions stems from an admission by the Kremlin that American intelligence estimates on the pace of the Iranian nuclear program have been more accurate than Russia's own.
During their G-20 summit meeting in London earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Obama, according to the U.S. official, that "your assessments have been more right than ours."
But former Bush administration aides said Russia is playing a familiar tune.
"We have been there before," said David Wurmser, a former Middle East adviser to Cheney and founder of the Delphi Global Analysis Group, a private consulting firm in Washington.
"At several key moments from 2003 until 2006, Russia displayed irritation at Iran and evinced to us such exasperation at Tehran's behavior that they not only threatened tough action, but even somewhat delivered," he said. "The problem was, however, that it was never truly decisive, nor genuinely biting against Tehran."
Wurmser said Russia and China -- two countries that wield veto power at the United Nations Security Council, which has imposed relatively mild economic sanctions against Iran three times since 2006 -- knew the evidence of Iranian nuclear progress was compelling. But the American-led invasion of Iraq complicated the Bush administration's efforts to persuade other countries to take aggressive action to contain Iran's nuclear threat.
The Security Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union all operated from "roughly the same set of facts, with only some differences in the granularity of the information" about Iran, Wurmser said in an e-mail to FOX News.
"The differences in policy emerged in the different political calculations we all had," Wurmser added. "[H]ard information we were getting [showed American officials that] the primary aim for the E.U. and Russia in 2003 to 2006 was to avoid giving the U.S. a pretext to attack Iran. No matter what information ever came to light, they were terrified we would use it to justify a strike on Tehran.
"Every time in this period I landed in a European capital at [U.N. Ambassador] John Bolton's request to discuss Iran, the first thing I got was: 'What is your end game here; are you going to use the information to pull another Iraq? Tell us where you are going with this before we tell you how much we will admit Iran is going down the path to a bomb in the U.N.' When I failed to give them a guarantee that we will not strike Iran, they stalled on moving ahead with acknowledging or using the evidence in public which in private they accepted."
Russia, he added, "was like the E.U. on hormones in this regard."
Bolton, who served as the Bush administration's top arms control official at the State Department before being appointed ambassador to the U.N. -- and who now serves as a FOX News analyst on international affairs -- agreed the ouster of Saddam Hussein soured U.S. efforts to collaborate with Russia on Iranian nuclear diplomacy.
"Before the Iraq war, I thought we were breaking through to [the Russians]," Bolton said in a telephone interview Friday. "Since 2003, they have been very resistant to the idea that Iran was a proliferation threat."
But this stand by Moscow, Bolton said, was never based on the evidence.
"They didn't disagree with what we said Iran was doing; they just wouldn't cooperate with us because...Russia had so many competing commercial interests in Iran and they were upset that we had gotten rid of their good buddy, Saddam Hussein," he said.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood, asked on Thursday whether he had discerned any changes in Russia's approach to Iran since the start of the Obama administration, replied: "[W]e've had a dialogue with Russia on this question, and Russia shares the concerns that we have about Iran's intentions."