A Russian answer to Iran's threat
Moscow can bring Tehran to heel, if the US price is right. Is Obama ready to give up missile defense to make that happen?
A few months ago, at a small private luncheon I attended, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, one of the wisest men in the foreign affairs community, was asked about the Iran problem. "Iran can't be solved," he replied, "without Russia."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Someone from the Obama administration must have been eavesdropping.
All the signs suggest that in return for Russian pressure upon Iran to end its military nuclear program, the Obama White House quid pro quo would abandon the missile defense project the Bush White House had planned to build on Russia's doorstep.
From the beginning the Russians have hated the project, to be located in Poland and the Czech Republic, and have threatened various kinds of retaliation. The Bush administration argued it was intended as a defense against potential Iranian missiles, and posed no threat to Russia.
In a speech in Munich earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden suggested the US was willing to talk with the Russians about the project. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US "will reconsider where we stand" on the ballistic missile defense project if Iran curbs its military nuclear program.
In his interview with the Al-Arabiya TV network, President Obama said: "If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."
So the question now is whether Russia is willing to help unclench Iran's hand on its suspected nuclear missile production. Russia brings special leverage because of its close economic and military ties with Iran. Moscow has also aided Tehran's allegedly peaceful nuclear program. Time may be of the essence: To mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution earlier this month, Iran fired a satellite into space atop a Safir-2 rocket, apparently an adaptation of the Shahab-3, which could carry a nuclear warhead.
Some American military analysts have thought the missile defense project in Poland and the Czech Republic to be dubious from the beginning and unduly provocative to the Russians. If Iran forgoes the development of nuclear weaponry and offers credible evidence of such, the system would be unnecessary anyway.
Russia's intentions are always hard to read. As Winston Churchill remarked some 70 years ago: "It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Things have not changed a lot since then and Russia's current attitude toward the US is a murky mixture of overtures and bellicosity. Through the ever-present veil of suspicion in Moscow about the Americans, there have been intimations of willingness to work with the Obama administration.