Commentary Magazine


Obama, Russia, and Iran

Sens. Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham sent a letter to the president on his upcoming trip to Russia. It reads in part:

As you travel to Russia next week we strongly urge you to put preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability as the top priority in your discussions with Russia’s leadership.  Negotiations over bilateral arms control, missile defense in Europe, civilian nuclear cooperation, WTO accession and other issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship must be conducted with an eye towards Russian policy on Iran.  We believe that the United States should not make unilateral gestures without specific understandings that Moscow will support tougher measures against Iran if Tehran does not soon suspend its enrichment program….

Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is and must remain a top foreign policy objective of the United States.  Given the unfolding events in Iran following its presidential elections, when and if engagement with Tehran can happen is an open question.  Meanwhile Iran’s nuclear program continues.  Our ability to impact that program will increase if Russia signals its support for tougher measures against Iran.

It is odd and a bit sad that a bipartisan group of senators would feel compelled to write a letter to the president telling him not to take the eye off the ball on what is arguably the principal national security challenge we face. It would be as if a bipartisan group wrote to Ronald Reagan pleading with him not to forget the Cold War when he met with Gorbachev.

But they are right to be concerned over Obama not being very concerned. Aside from grudgingly offering a few crumbs of rhetorical support for the protesters after days and days of paralysis, he has again gone mute on Iran. One senses he’s simply hoping the whole “protest thing” will just blow over so he can go back to working on the Grand Bargain with the mullahs.

This trip will show us wheher president is still on the “Not George W. Bush!” tour and is loath to insist that other nations recognize our legitimate national security interests. He’s more than willing to talk about limiting American industrial output to placate global-warming alarmists and he is reluctant to dictate to others (with the exception of Israel. of course). But he’s not one to require others to conform or alter their behavior to further our fundamental interests. Alas, one suspects a “you are on our team” reminder would not make much difference. Nor, I fear, will the “remember the Iranian nuclear threat” plea.

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