Time to Test China and Russia
One key difference between John Kerry and George Bush often cited in the presidential campaign is how each would enlist other nations in battling terrorists. And often this is simply a question of how much help each would seek from France and Germany in fixing Iraq, especially with military assistance.
But when it comes to a more important US goal - keeping nuclear devices from being given to terrorists groups like Al Qaeda - Russia and China matter a lot more.
Russia is critical in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear capability, while China is the frontline state helping the US in talks aimed at keeping North Korea from perfecting an atomic arsenal.
While it's worrisome enough that full nuclearization alone would destabilize the regions surrounding Iran and North Korea, additionally each country has supported terrorism of one sort or another and might become a black-market source for a suitcase-size nuclear device. That may be why Mr. Bush has been on better terms with Russian and Chinese leaders than those of France and Germany.
But a central question is this: Is Bush doing as much as he can to persuade Moscow and Beijing to pressure Iran and North Korea to give up the dream of being a nuclear power? Or is the US letting its other interests with those countries take precedence?
Mr. Bush hasn't yet done enough. And one measure of that may be this week's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The US wants the IAEA's 35-member board to cite Iran for hindering nuclear inspections and for not suspending all its uranium enrichment, and then ask the UN Security Council to impose sanctions. Russia, as the main supplier of nuclear fuel and equipment to Iran, can still pull the plug on Tehran's program, as well as support the US at the IAEA.
Washington does say Russia is putting pressure on Iran, but so far the results remain inconclusive. China, too, has been unable or unwilling to use its clout over North Korea to negotiate an end to that nuclear weapons program.
While the presidential campaign is focused on the military side of fighting terrorists, such as in Iraq, diplomacy with friendly nations to improve the security of the US can be just as critical.
Perhaps Mr. Kerry would bring a more effective approach. And indeed the IAEA may just delay a showdown with Iran until after the election.
But even before that possibility, the urgency remains to stop Iran and North Korea, and Bush still has an opportunity to show he can rally Russia and China to that end.