WASHINGTON — The world does not stand still while America struggles over presidential succession. Russia, for one, always sensitive to being sidelined by the American superpower, has stepped into a perceived vacuum in order to increase its standing.
For years, the United States has sought to keep Russia from any decisive role in the Middle East. Now, while we remain transfixed by the next move in Tallahassee, President Vladimir Putin has been conferring with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Moscow. He arranged for Mr. Arafat to talk to Israeli Premier Ehud Barak on the telephone.
Signs are that Russia will support Arafat in trying to internationalize the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by bringing in some United Nations force.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says that Russia is getting into the act because violence is threatening to spread beyond the borders of this volatile region.
The 43rd US president will have his work cut out for him reasserting American leadership in the Middle East.
In this period of confusion in American leadership, and with the Russian economy benefiting from higher oil prices, Russia has also thumbed its nose at the US about weapons sales to Iran.
Russia has reneged on its 1995 pledge, negotiated with Vice President Al Gore, to phase out its arm sales to Iran. Mr. Ivanov now says, "You cannot speak to Russia in the language of ultimatums. The language of sanctions is not the kind of language you can use with Russia."
Parliament leader Konstantin Kosachev says Russia was forced to make the deal on no arms sales to Iran when it depended on help from the UN and the International Monetary Fund. Now, he said, Russia is not afraid of American sanctions.
Russia also has been active in seeking to link up with Western Europe. President Putin has had his fourth meeting in recent months with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, seeking agreement on a common European defense policy that would reduce US influence. They shared their concerns about the creation of a US missile defense system.
At a European Union meeting in Berlin, Ivanov expressed Russian readiness to cooperate in creating a European rapid-reaction force outside NATO. Ivanov said Russia would even study the possibility of contributing troops to such a force.
After the inaugural ball is over, the president will wake up on Jan. 21 and find America lost a lot of ground in the world while it contemplated its electoral navel.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society