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US, Russia announce breakthrough on new Iran resolution

The move shows a willingness to act on common goals despite deteriorating relations.

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US officials insist that neither Rice nor the Bush administration more broadly is allowing very deep concerns about Russia's behavior in Georgia and with other neighbors to curtail contacts on other issues of common interest. While the "disagreements" between Rice and Mr. Lavrov were "quite clear" in their meeting Wednesday, they also had "constructive" discussions on other topics, including North Korea and Iran, said Daniel Fried, the US assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

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It may not have been coincidental that European officials reported the apparent breakthrough on a fourth Iran resolution. European officials in New York had become alarmed that the US-Russia differences would hold up other action. On Iran specifically, European officials were increasingly concerned that prolonged inaction could prompt Israel to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner alluded to this when he told reporters that "the situation in Iran is serious enough that we cannot stop working on it." He predicted a lower-level meeting of the six countries working together on Iran – the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany – would meet "soon."

Still, underlying what may appear to be diplomatic sparring between the US and Russia are deeper differences over how the two powers see global leadership evolving. Behind Rice's caustic remarks on Russian actions is the belief that Russia risks squandering its leadership role with an aggressive approach to its neighbors. Lavrov, on the other hand, says the US and what is called the "West" more broadly are the powers risking isolation if they resist opening up global leadership to a more multipolar world.

"The Russians look at the trends in the world, what countries are gaining powers and which are receding, and they don't see that they are the ones who risk isolation," says Mr. Gvosdev.

Mr. Lavrov said as much in a speech this week at the Council on Foreign Relations. "You can't really have it both ways," he said, "punishing Russia by canceling the forums that are very important for the entire world, while at the same time demanding Russia's cooperation on the issues that are important to you."

But he also said he interpreted his meeting with Rice as a sign that a "pragmatic" approach in relations would prevail and that differences between the two countries – which he said had always existed – would not be allowed to derail common diplomatic goals.

But even in listing Iran as a common concern, Lavrov offered a definition of the goal there that differs considerably from what the US and its European allies appear to seek. Lavrov said the goal in pressing Iran is verification by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran's nuclear program is fully peaceful in nature. The US and the European

Union want Iran's uranium enrichment program stopped.

Of course, not all interested parties would be happy to see the US adopt a pragmatic approach to relations with Russia that puts big-picture interests over regional concerns. US allies in Eastern and Central Europe especially may shudder at the thought of the US backing off from its support of them in favor of smoother relations with Moscow.

Still, the recent references by both sides to common interests – as well as a surprise fourth Security Council resolution on Iran – will reassure some that cooler heads have prevailed as the US and Russia work through new realities in their relations.

"We just can't get too carried away with the sparring," says Ms. Oudraat of USIP, "because on the big issues like proliferation, energy security, even climate change, we need Russia."