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.