Thursday, 5 March 2009

Does Iran letter signal US intention to treat Russia with more respect?

Given that the United States claims the proposed missile ‘defence shield’ it intends to construct in eastern Europe is designed to protect it from any possible Iranian nuclear threat, it should make perfect sense to abandon the project, if that threat dissipates. A letter from Barack Obama’s administration has suggested that Washington would be prepared to axe its plans, if Russia agrees not to assist Iran in its attempts to develop ballistic and nuclear weapons.

President Medvedev response to the speculation has been cautious, but it does not preclude the possibility that a delicate diplomatic dance might achieve the required outcome. Undoubtedly any understanding which was reached would entail an easing of tension between the Kremlin and the White House. The Russians remain understandably wary of being seen to be manoeuvred by the Americans, but this offers both sides a chance to be seen to cooperate without conceding anything particularly valuable.

As a Comment is Free piece points out, Obama has always been cool on the idea of a missile shield. And eradicating any nascent capability which Iran could potentially develop is not within Russia’s gift. Russia can distance itself commercially from Iran and end its business involvement in the country’s civilian nuclear ventures, but the only benefit that it can offer is a possible, unquantifiable delay as regards the Iranians acquiring the weapons which the letter specifies.

The letter does, however, have merit. Because the tacit message which underlies Obama’s proposition offers acknowledgment that Russia is a legitimate protagonist in international affairs and has strategic interests, in much the same way as the United States has its own set of interests. It heralds a less highhanded, less unilateral approach to geopolitics from the incoming American president.

I have argued before that the basis of relations between western states and Russia needs to be mutual respect. If respect is accorded then it allows partnerships to develop and differences to be discussed in a less confrontational fashion. Obama is showing some indications that he is prepared to foster an environment in which mutual respect can be nurtured.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if Obama is also keen to try and get more basing rights in Central Asia for the war in Afghanistan? The supply routes through Pakistan are becoming increasingly treacherous due to Taliban attacks. I noticed the other day that the Kyrgyz President is hinting at a compromise over the U.S. base there. This would give an alternative supply line for Obama's Afghan surge. The U.S. should have been careful to keep Russia on side in relation to Afghanistan but instead Bush's boneheaded foreign policy such as trying to bring Georgia into NATO just antagonised Russia. Hopefully now wiser heads will prevail!

Ted Leddy said...

I am a little confused. I thought that the missile shield in Eastern Europe was designed to shoot down more convention missiles like scuds. I thought the main point that Washington kept making was that the shield is not aimed at Russia's nuclear arsenal because the system is incapable of shooting down Russian nuclear missiles. I must be wrong because otherwise it would make no sense for the Russians to do this trade. Am I making any sense.

Chekov said...

Ted - Firstly the Russians have always rejected suggestions that the shield is not aimed at them. Secondly I'm not sure there is much to this trade at all. Obama isn't enthusiastic about going ahead with it in the first place and Russia would never accept that any relationship they might have with Iran is helping them to develop weapons capability. The significance of this is the optics, by which both sides can be seen to secure something, and, as I indicate, the message that Russia is a legitimate player in international affairs and will be treated with respect.