Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Russia and Iran: What Is the Deal?

Back at the Guardian, Simon Tisdall attributes the brusque U-turn in Russian foreign policy on Iran to two master strokes of President Obama’s foreign policy. One is obviously the recent revelation of the Qom clandestine enrichment facility; the other is scrapping missile defense. Thus writes Tisdall:

Russia’s new-found readiness to consider the “far tougher” sanctions demanded by Gordon Brown at the UN this week is doubtless linked to this confirmation of Iranian bad faith. But it also has an evident bilateral dimension in terms of Moscow’s relations with the US.

All those who were writing off Barack Obama last week as a foreign policy lightweight may now reflect at leisure on how he has achieved two major objectives in almost as many days: Russia is back on side, for now at least, thanks to his decision to re-model European missile defence. And China is now isolated in the security council in opposing new sanctions on Iran–a position it always tries to avoid on any major issue, and which it may now find untenable.

One should never think the Russians are in the pockets when it comes to Iran—but there is no doubt that the latest revelations are a headache for those in Kremlin arguing that stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not the highest (or even a high) Russian strategic priority. Still, we fail to see why missile defense is suddenly a stroke of brilliance. If the goal here was to sway Russia, exposing Qom’s clandestine facility should have been more than enough. There was no need to sacrifice Poland and the Czech Republic. Had the President exposed Qom prior to scrapping missile defense, one could argue that the Russians would have done the same. They would have expressed concern and used the same blunt words voiced by President Medvedev.

The details of the newly exposed plant are such that a Russian attempt to demur and pretend business is usual would have been met with scorn and derision by the world. The fact of the matter is, President Obama did not need to sacrifice missile defense to Russia if it wished to get Russia more determined to help on the Iran dossier. All he had to do was expose Qom.

There is no doubt that many on the Left will continue to link missile defense to some supposed grand bargain with Russia on Iran. The evidence is scant. And given what we’ve learned of Iran’s nuclear program in the last few days, it would be a shame if the U.S. President felt that he needed to sacrifice an American promise to trusted NATO allies to get the Russians on board.